2013 highlights from the LL crew

Our 2012 round-up seems almost laughably quaint compared to the wildness that was 2013. I guess that’s good, right?

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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:

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  • 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!

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MARENA

Favorite thing I made: Well, I made a lot of boxes. I really like make boxes. Shipping boxes, caramel assortment boxes, truffle boxes, heathen toffee boxes…oh, the heathen toffee boxes… But there is really something beautiful about packing a Locavore truffle assortment into one of Maresa’s porcelain pints–pint, candy pad, truffles, candy pad, truffles, candy pad, cellophane, label, sticker, bow. What a lovely list of steps.
Favorite thing I ate: Staff salad breaks during the summer were pretty fantastic. And when you use a plant potter as a bowl you can make your staff salad deceivingly large. Lagusta made some yellow dressing, it was amazing. Actually that reminds me of the day she made onion rings. My heart grew three sizes that day.
Favorite moment: There was the time Brendan greeted someone who walked in and his voice cracked like he was 12. Lucy & I were out of sight from customers on the couch. She didn’t even need to hesitate, she immediately covered my mouth with her non-soup-holding hand to hide my hysterics while Brendan could see the whole thing happening. I laughed myself to tears for a good ten minutes. Little moments like that are my favorites. The night Jacob was jonesing for a vegan hot dog after Erin & I got some was pretty funny too.
I also really like whenever we get some new product or item in, or even if someone needs a recipe tasted, and we all get called in a circle to try it. When I first started at the shop I sort of kept quiet because I didn’t know anything, but now I feel confident expressing my ideas.
Favorite customers: There’s this dad that comes in with his young son every now and then. He’s got a Long Island accent and the kid runs around the shop reading all the labels on the products, talking a million miles an hour, and asks his dad if they can get it, and the dad always just screams “NO!”. Not in a mean way, more in a, “Someone please help me” way. It’s always pretty entertaining.
JACOB
- the new benches [made by Jacob!]

- Selmi x 2
- donuts [made by Tara, vegan, delivered to the shop every saturday!]
- creating the smores bar (toasting the marshmallow!)
- coffee trainings
- “the mangler”! [our new caramel cutter!]
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LUCY

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.

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SAMANTHA, our lovely high-school intern-turned-actual part-timer!

Making drinking chocolates

Making millions of caramel assortment boxes

The satisfaction of making the perfect size candy pad just by eyeballing it
Trying to make Gelt bags as fast as people were ordering them
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KATE
the year was 2013 and the highlights were thick and if I could list absolutely everything on earth, I would. when the caramel thermometer broke and Lucy finished a batch of apple caramels perfectly just through the smell of it, alone. every time Erin managed to back off an impressive number of molds with almost no chocolate left in the tempering machine: complete perfect efficiency. when Maresa sprinted a package to the post office one minute before they closed. I told her “you’re insane” and I meant it & she just smiled, said her trademark “see ya” as she dashed out the door. when maresa and i would have “new wave wednesdays” and she knew what my favorite new order song was and joined in my constant elation. when jacob makes coffee when jacob talks about coffee when we get to drink coffee, side by side, when jacob became a selmi chocolatier, high standards, beautiful molds. when brendan talked about how much he loves tie dye, when brendan is unafraid of the robot coupe blade. when Marena and I got 67 packages shipped out in one day and the post office cried but we felt completely invincible, walking on air. when Lagusta talked about watermelons for an hour straight when Lagusta made any sort of food when Lagusta could not tell the difference between a lion and a tiger, her endless pursuit of not wasting absolutely anything. when lucy and i worked late on halloween, spiderman and a candy cane cupping anatomical heart chocolates, dancing to the monster mash, playing it over and over. when we would go outside to stare at the moon. when we all were so mice to each other. every macaron i ate, every macaron maresa made. every muppet babies parody, the shop iguana [i.e. the sugar work heat lamp]. when everyone indulged my snack seminar. when I started working, I didn’t know anything. i asked those questions that seem so silly now: “how do you know if chocolate is out of temper,” “how do you dip a truffle,” “how do you know if your caramel is exactly ready,” and the answer is usually: you look, you feel, it becomes instinct. I remember the day I just realized I was doing it all and not feeling nervous about it. the pride in the small things. it always feels like sugar magic and I do feel like a sugar wizard sometimes, my wand in my apron pocket, a line of us at the beginning of the day, gathered up, divvying up tasks, casting the spells, making all of the things. if I could list absolutely everything on earth, I would.

Cranberry Citrus Compote and Candied Orange and Cranberry Bonbons

As I write this at 1 am on Halloween (I’m a night owl!), I can’t quite wrap my mind around November being here already. But here it is, and I’ll welcome it warmly, because this last week has been so tough for so many of us that turning the page seems like the best thing to do.

We’ve had a wild month at the shop, too, but less fraught with weather-related nightmares, thankfully. Oprah and Halloween (which brought with it a truly bittersweet surprise) bookended a month of intense busy-ness, which will (hopefully!) only intensify as the holiday season approaches.

Which brings us to this month’s chocolate: Candied Orange and Cranberry Bonbons, which are inspired by an amazing Cranberry Citrus Compote I make every year for Thanksgiving, and think about making the rest of the year but never do because of that weird thing where it’s almost impossible to make holiday foods when it’s not that particular holiday.

In case you’d like to start and end your holiday meal with the fresh flavors of cranberries and zesty citrus, here’s my recipe for the compote, which I adapted from Fine Cooking magazine years ago. Don’t forget the chocolates, too!

No photo of the compote, but I’ll add one after Thanksgiving!

CRANBERRY CITRUS COMPOTE

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Makes 5 cups

Keeps a week. If making far ahead, stir in scallions at last minute. Let come to room temperature before serving.

19 oz. fresh cranberries, picked over and rinsed

optional: 5 oz frozen currants. I like using currants because you can get them locally. I usually freeze some during the summer for this dish.

zest of 2 lemons

zest of 2 oranges, preferably blood oranges

3 shallots, finely chopped

1 ¼ c sugar

½ c orange juice

1/3 c thinly sliced scallions

pinch salt

  1. Heat oven to 350. Combine cranberries, currants, zests, shallots, and sugar in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Turn into 2 (2 qt.) baking dishes and drizzle orange juice over the mixture.
  2. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and a few berries have popped open, about 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from oven, let cool thoroughly (the pectin in the excess liquid will firm up when cool), stir in scallions, cover, and refrigerate.

Valentine’s gift guide

We’re in full Valentine’s mode now–the busiest three weeks of the year are here! If you haven’t made your selections yet, here are some ideas for your loved ones, or, even better, to Valentine yourself.

  • The biggest and fanciest of our Valentine selections is the My Heart is Yours collection. It’s a giant 6″ chocolate heart filled with nine special chocolates. It’s truly special, and a truly huge amount of chocolate, too.
  • Our Intense Anatomical Heart is one of the most wild and crazy chocolates we make. Not for the faint of you-know-what, it’s tangy, fruity, bitter, and salty, an entire rollercoaster of flavors unfolding one after another on your tongue. It’s for the kind of love that leaves your heart pounding and your mouth dry—that wild kind of relationship.
  • The White Chocolate Strawberry Bark is red and swirly and perfectly suited to your Valentine who maybe doesn’t love deep dark chocolate but just wants something fun and snackable.
  • All of our truffles are, of course, classic symbols of love, but the new Harlot Box is especially lovey because it includes pomegranate truffles garnished with gorgeous organic rose petals.
  • If you want to extend your love to animals this loving season, not only is the Rosemary Sea Salt Caramels (we just call it RSSC) box our bestest seller of all time, but half the cost of each box goes to Friends of Animals as well.
  • The feisty feminist women in your life will be honored to receive any of our Bluestocking Bonbons, each of which is named for an inspiring woman. The Raspberries de Pizan are particularly perfect, since they’re filled with fresh raspberry puree. 
  • And, of course, Furious Vulvas. Of course!

the most ridiculous blog post ever

When I need to add a photo to the website, I’m supposed to upload it to an FTP thingie. But my FTP program thingie is always annoying, and uploading photos to this blog is so easy! Thus, the purpose of this blog post is to upload this photo of the Luscious Locavore box (<—- fabulous new name, as mentioned in the post below, is thanks to Facebook pal Erica!). It’s a truly beautiful thing, this box in this beautiful porcelain container. Read all about it here! 

Hey, a blog post with Valentine’s ideas is coming soon! The February Chocolate of the Month is already up though, and it is GIANT and amazing.

June 2011 Chocolate of the Month: Saffron and Wild Lime Bonbons

For posterity and record keeping, I’m making a blog post with each Chocolate of the Month as the month ends.

The Facebook photo album with glorious photos of the June chocolates is here, check it out!

June is the one-year anniversary of the Chocolate of the Month Club, and it’s the first new chocolate we’ve made in our soon-to-be-open-to-the-public shop, so I wanted it to be something special.

The cool, freshly renovated shop (a little more than a month ago it was a dank and dusty laundromat!) inspires calm and creativity, and I spent a quiet afternoon recently playing around with different flavor pairings and enjoying working in the kitchen I’d designed and brought to life. This sophisticated bonbon is the result of my experiments, and its freshness is an homage to the exciting newness in the Lagusta’s Luscious world.

A blend of several different permutations of lime—lime extract, ground wild Persian lime, and fresh lime zest—and the deep, mysterious, luxurious, decadent flavor of super high-quality saffron is folded into a vegan milk chocolate ganache filling. The ganache is lighter than the dark chocolate ganache in our truffles, which shows off the light, bright flavors well. This smooth filling is piped into a cacao pod-shaped chocolate shell, reminding us of the specialness of our pal theobroma cacao.

Club members will receive two boxes of Saffron and Wild Lime Bonbons.

We’ve had a fantastic first year of the Chocolate of the Month Club, and look forward to many more. Thanks for your support!

 

May 2011 Chocolate of the Month: A Pair of Barks

For posterity and record keeping, I’m making a blog post with each Chocolate of the Month as the month ends.

Oh, the Facebook photo album with glorious photos of the barks is here, check it out!
May 2011 Chocolate of the Month: A Pair of Chocolate Barks
Strawberries and Cream Bark
and
Fig and Caramelized Fennel Bark

Strawberries and Cream Bark
More white chocolate! Everyone loved the January white chocolate truffles so much that I knew we had to do more. This sweet, easygoing bark is a swirl of non-waxy, delicious housemade white chocolate and our bittersweet dark chocolate, studded with crunchy bits of freeze-dried strawberries.

Fig and Caramelized Fennel Bark is dark and stormy—rich Calimyrna figs with toasted praline fennel seeds.

And there we go! (We were deep into renovation world in May, so no purple prose this month!)