Coupla things, blog friends:
Did you know we have a cafe now? If you don’t you’re forgiven, because I haven’t written anything on this blog for six months, so. (Pal around with us on FB or IG or Twitter where we bug you with beautiful food pix every day, will ya?). Um also did you know we (with our BFF Maresa, who also co-invented this recipe) have an NYC chocolate-macaron shop now? We still have our OG New Paltz choco-shop, it’s mostly a production space for shipping & the NYC shop & life is great & I work 24 hours a day and you should come visit our lil empire in NP, blah blah.
OK now that I’ve done my capitalist-promotion for the day, let’s talk eggs.
At Commissary! (aforementioned cafe) we serve ye olde Vegan Deviled Eggs every day (on our cheese plates!), so I’ve learned the ins & outs of ’em more, and that old post is such a mess that I figured I owed it to you to streamline it a bit.
Some updated notes:
- The original recipe calls for unsweetened almond or soy milk. Almonds are naturally sweet and that sweetness can be off-putting, so I like a mix of 1/2 almond milk and 1/2 soy milk to cut the sweetness without that telltale thick beany soymilky flavor. But if you don’t want to buy a container of each, use either. I’ve also tried this recipe with homemade almond milk—in my opinion it’s too sweet.
- If it’s your first time making these babes, read the original post for good tips for using agar and black salt for the first time and where to buy an egg mold.
- You might want to halve the whites recipe and make it twice unless you have a lot of egg molds, because it’ll set up fairly fast. Agar is thermoreversible, however, so if it sets up you can gently reheat it & it’ll melt back down. In my opinion it always gets too frothy when you do this, though.
- Speaking of frothiness—it’s really your enemy. It doesn’t give you a good texture, and it’s a dead giveaway that you’re eating a fake egg. To cut down on froth, barely whisk or stir the mixture as it’s coming to a boil, and tap it hard on a wooden cutting board before you pour the whites into the egg molds. If you still have bubbles, poke them with a knife blade.
- If you’re too lazy to do the whole eggs thing or don’t want to buy an egg mold just for this recipe, just chop up the whites (spread them on a sheet pan or something instead of pouring into the eggs molds) and mix em with the yolks and make egg salad.
- Be sure your black salt is the sulfurous, eggy kind, kala namak. We use a black lava sea salt on a chocolate and always have to be careful not to mess em up. The egginess of kala namak varies widely, so buy a small jar. It also loses its potency quickly, so buy a small jar. We taste our eggs every day and typically have to give them a small sprinkle of salt every morning to top up the egg flavor.
- The big difference between this recipe and the first version is that Rachel, who works at Commissary! had the brilliant idea to blend the scooped-out insides of the whites into the yolks mixture—it helps the mixture hold its shape and gives it a little more flavor. The original recipe had vegan mayo, but with the scooped out whites you don’t need it—I upped the vinegar & mustard quantities slightly, too.
- I just bought these egg molds, they’re nice, though slightly bigger than regular chicken eggs.
- If you’re wondering why two hardcore vegans (Maresa & I have been vegan combined literally 40 years or more) would make these, here’s what Reesey had to say about it way back when we created em: “I usually hate stuff like this. We did it for a few reasons: 1. the fun challenge of nailing a taste and texture that are decidedly Not Vegan. 2. Deviled eggs, to me, taste good. I’m not vegan because meat and dairy and eggs taste bad- I’m vegan because those industries are too effed up to support. 3. Nostalgia. My grandma used to make deviled eggs and now she can’t, so someone’s gotta do it, and I’m not going to touch a chicken’s period. That said, Enjoy!”
OK let’s get going.
900 grams milk (about 4 cups): unsweetened soy or almond or, preferably, a mix of both. Be sure your milk is unsweetened or your eggs will be disgusting!
11 grams agar powder (about 4 teaspoons? I think! The next time we make this I’ll double check. Or if you make these, let me know!)
1/2 teaspoon black salt
- Bring all just to a boil. Barely stir. Pour into egg molds.
- Let set up 15 minutes or so, in the fridge or not, then scoop out the center cavity with a melon baller, grapefruit spoon, or whatever. The beauty of making your own egg whites is that in addition to not supporting the machine of institutionalized death and heartbreaking pain that is the egg industry, you also get to make your cavities as big as you want (make them big), so you can put in as much filling as you want (put in a lot). As with non-vegan deviled eggs, the filling is the tasty part.
1 lb firm or extra firm tofu
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon mustard
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or whatever vinegar you want)
1 1/4 teaspoon black salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon turmeric
scooped out innards from the whites
- Blend all together in food processor or blender. Taste and keep messing around until it tastes good.
- Using a pastry bag fitted with an open star tip, pipe the yolks into the whites.
- Garnish with a sprinkle of paprika, chives—whatever suits your fancy.
Here’s the second part of our annual year-end roundup. Part one, with a lot of words from me, is here.
New recipes were mastered, delicious ice cream was made, potlucks were shared, people stepped up when others had to prioritize time with loved ones, early mornings and late nights were enjoyed in each other’s company, and delicious chocolates were devoured by all. We couldn’t ask for a better place to spend our days.
Becoming designated custie person and getting to know all the lovely regular customers a little better, taking one of the hardest course loads I have ever taken and ultimately being so proud of how I did and how much I learned, going to the museum of natural history for the first time with my wonderful boyfriend, seeing both Seal and Madonna in concert, lavender lemonade, toffee, hot cider, maple pecan caramel, Lagusta’s pizza, celebrating the shops 4 year anniversary along with my relationship’s 4 year anniversary, being surrounded by the most amazing people every day at work and learning so much about both them and myself, feeling more and more grateful every day that the shop exists, knowing the incredible person that is Lagusta, meeting brilliant Pauline.
Alexis: 2015 was the year where going to work didn’t feel like going to work anymore. It was the year I truly felt at home in the shop.
2015 was a year of change, loss and growth. And we rallied around one another, everyone so soft and so strong. The staff I belong to – I’d say they’re people that I’ve been waiting to meet my whole life. They’re not co-workers and bosses, they’re friends. I’m thankful for them all every day.
Some quick highlights:
-Had my last “waitressing” job this summer during Lagusta’s beautiful dinner series.
-Got my first real oven burn. Hurt like hell.
-Grew to enjoy the world of solitary enrobing, which was previously my least favorite and most often fucked-up task
-Discovered the beauty of listening to podcasts while working (especially while enrobing)
-Shipped a hell of a lot of boxes in December
-Ate so many scraps
-Learned a whole lot about veganism and made some pretty tasty work lunches
-Witnessed Maresa toss/chuck/heave so many cupcakes/macs/flax eggs into the ditch and it was never not funny
-Had some great Gilmore Girls chats. I’m looking at you two, Adrienne and Alexandra.
This past month I kept catching myself smiling as I walked through the shop, watching everyone work so seamlessly and flawlessly together through our busiest time. I’m so damn grateful to be a part of this. It’s been quite a year.
I am a relative newcomer to the LL family, having arrived in June to this lovely, tight-knit, happy crew. I’m a food business veteran and the oldest member of the bunch so I wondered how my way of looking at things would fit in with the tone already set in the place. Thankfully, it has been a smooth, easy ride. I’m happy to put forward my ‘wisdom’ (ha!) on food safety and baking equipment and proper footwear – it makes me feel useful and, frankly, like less of a newbie amidst all these people who really know their stuff despite not having decades of experience. Impressive and humbling as that is, I am super pleased that I’m starting to learn all the exacting, attention-requiring arts of chocolatier-ing from such patient, cool, fun people.
So, on to the highlights of the year… One of the real perks of the job for me is that I’m able to visit with and feed my son every working day – that is an amazing opportunity for a new, working mom. I so appreciate everyone accommodating me and him, even during the busiest of times, and it has made the whole experience just perfect.
I’ve really enjoyed acquiring a few titles along the way: Food Service Professional (natch), Spider Catch (and release)-er, and Peppermint Patty Princess (by far my favorite, but I’m wondering, when do I get my tiara??).
It has been enlightening to see how even the ‘mistakes’ (Thank god, since I made plenty) get used and made into something amazing and delicious – the most truly efficient and waste-free kitchen that I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot!
And even though I espouse to be a principled person, it wasn’t until I saw just how much Lagusta lives by her principles and has made a successful business that supports and benefits her community, that I started to ‘put my money where my mouth was’ and tried to do the same. Joined a CSA, stopped supporting businesses that have dodgy practices, ate better and encouraged others to do the same, the whole shebang. I owe her a big thanks for that inspiration and kick in the pants.
But the best highlight for me was making a bunch of friends who make going to work the highlight of my week!! Thank you, one and all.
In 2014 I was focused entirely on improvements inside the shop but this past year we started looking outside. We always have a list of wants, needs, and dreams for projects at the shop (if only you knew of some of the grander dreams that have come and gone over the last few years!) and this year we decided to just start crossing some of them off. The biggest one that you’ll see if the patio in the front of the shop. That started with a plan to redo our perpetually potholed filled driveway with porous pavers. We went though many design ideas and in the process realized that redoing the front area and setting the parking area back away from the building would be the best best for now. We had our farmer friend Ian Taliaferro design and do the work and we revealed it at our 4-year anniversary party. We’re so happy with how it turned it that we had our only dinner series of the year out on the patio this summer. We also added an awning on the side entrance of the shop (no more shoveling snow in order to get into the shop!), a huge deck in the back, and the ornamental holiday front awning for the winter. In addition, one of my favorite new items (a years long project!) was the custom bike rack on the side of the patio, that really finished it off for me.
Inside the shop we were finally able to tackle the nearly decade old Bluestocking Bonbons packaging when we realized we’d be running out of Furious Vulva boxes. This was a huge opportunity for us to bring it up to date but also a lot of pressure to work with one of our oldest, and most recognized, products. After eliciting outside help (thanks Scott!) and numerous revisions (thanks JP & Hemlock!) we finally settled on the new Vulva box and I think it’s the best of both worlds. I can’t wait to update all the rest of them.
Of course there’s chocolate too! My favorites for the year:
– The Blood Orange Heart: I was proud of our new creation! It’s often hard to create new meaningful chocolates (that taste great) for holidays and this one was splendid.
– Peanut Butter Ice Cream Caramel Bar: This one was a dream, literally, we’ve been dreaming of such a thing! I used to eat Snickers Ice Cream bars as a kid and there was always the want, the need, for one. Lo and behold, we have it!
– Slushies and ice cream: for a chocolate shop we do really great on the non-chocolate side. I was lucky enough to taste-test so many great ice creams and slushy flavors this summer.
– Daylily bialys with foraged daylily flour: I could eat these with Miyoko’s or Treeline cheese every day of my life. In fact, I think I did as long as I could until they ran out. I even helped forage for these so I think I earned it!
my year’s memories include birthday party potlucks & scaling recipes up-up-up, wondering why we didn’t do it sooner. working harder and better than last year: being unsurprised, being proud. we got new thermometers and an extra selmi (no big deal) (very big deal) and on halloween lagusta covered the shop in spiderwebs with me, which honestly felt like the thing I was born to do. trying to come up with specific and standout memories of the year proves difficult: when you love your work so much, when you are in awe of your co-workers. every day is standout & I am aware of how rosy I am painting all of this & it is my day job, yes & punks aren’t supposed to like their jobs or something & yeah right & some jobs are worth loving & rose rose rose rose rose
Having just started working at the shop two months ago, its hard to call attention to specific moments of importance when every moment so far feels invaluable in creating my general sense of love for Lagusta’s Luscious world and all of the incredible people who make it such an incredible place to be.
Every day spent at the shop is full of new feats, new chocolates to taste, endless laughter–work for me is dipping turtles, making the always-crucial whipped cream, spoonfuls of peanut butter filling, celebrating birthdays with the best potlucks and party hats, memorizing the ever-growing collection of quotes suspended throughout the shop while wrapping bars in gold, the olfactory satisfaction of Maresa’s Macarons, and toasted pecans, and Walk in the Woods bars. The list goes on.
It’s 11 pm on New Years Eve, and although my general attitude towards this holiday is that the sentiment of excitement for renewal can be replicated any day of the year, tonight I’m relishing in this holiday’s tendency towards hyperbole and feeling extremely grateful for the last two months of this year, and the year to come. I feel so lucky to be a part of such a strong community of talented people who provide me with infinite opportunity for growth- and to be able to feel that about a workplace is something rare and unforgettable.
(crazy work times didn’t allow time for me to take photos of some of our newest LL team members, eeek!)
The highlight for me this winter was definitely getting to work with so many unique, fun, quirky, entertaining, kind, helpful, amazing people. Everybody was willing to teach and answer questions and to share their love of this delicious, creative work. Birthdays were always highlights as well- whether we had potlucks or pizza parties it was so great to set aside time during the busy day to celebrate and enjoy food and good company!
One 2015 LL time that I will always remember is working on Halloween. We had spent the day before packaging pieces of bark that looked like spider webs for the trick or treaters. After putting all of the bark pieces into the bags, we thought we had way too much chocolate, and that we’d have a massive amount left over. Come Halloween and the herds of trick or treaters, we ran out of spider web bark within 2 hours, and had to frantically package random pieces for the masses of children that were coming into the shop. As frantic as it was, it felt strangely fun to be that insanely busy for the day.
well, 2015 came and went faster than a peanut butter lover such as myself can devour a peanut butter cup. Things have been tough on an emotional & friendship level, but I truly have never felt stronger teamwork than I did during the past 2 months. Filling hundreds of orders with just a few of us, and without Lagusta being around because she was busy being the best daughter/caretaker/friend on this planet, was hard – but it felt good. it also feels incredible to be creatively fulfilled by your job because working late or going in early doesn’t matter. Working with people who are hilarious and talented barely gets tiring when you are proud of what do you. Now, as I do every year, I’m attending another chunk of Phish concerts to say goodbye to the year. So, I’m sitting here in NYC listening to people talk about working in crappy offices, and their long commute on the subway everyday to get to work. And how Phish NYE is their only outlet for happiness. Meanwhile, I’m sitting here laughing and eating my hazelnut sugarplum caramel bar.
It’s a tradition at LL to reflect on our best moments of the year past as we make preparations for the year to come. The next post will be notes from most of our staff, but first a few thoughts of my own.
2015 was the strangest year of my life. I barely worked—which is a string of words not appropriate to describe me since I was fourteen. I cared for my mother as she battled cancer, and came into the shop in bits and pieces. It was the hardest and worst year of my life—slowly watching a disgusting disease kill your best friend is pretty much the definition of “hard times”—but professionally it was filled with astonishments and joys. One of the (many) gifts that care-taking gave me was that I was forced to let go of so many more responsibilities at work than I’d ever dreamed was possible—and the LL team picked them right up.
Now, on the other side of everything and trying to slowly process and heal, one of the excitements of the future for me is the knowledge that I can take time for other projects without the chocolate business collapsing. I have some great plans for 2016 both personally and professionally. Some I’m keeping under wraps, but here are a few:
We’re going to:
- Dip our toes into the (vegan) white chocolate sea. We’ve been making our own butter-to-bar white chocolate for a while, and I never quite trust that it’s as good as it is. But it is. It’s good! It’s a lot more expensive to make then dark chocolate, so we’ll have to see how it sells…
- Revamp our website! Our indefatigable web manager, Erin, has patiently been building us a shiny new site which will be so much more elegant and user-friendly. Can’t wait to show it to you.
- Buy a better ice cream maker! So we can churn out so much more.
- Revamp our Chocolate of the Month Club. The club is really hard to run! But people really like it! So we’re making it easier on ourselves by making collections of new chocolates paired old favorites for each month, instead of an all-new huge assortment of sweets, which sort of took over our lives in a wild way. Running a sustainable business means it has to be sustainable for us, too, as I periodically remind myself.
- Take care of our staff. I intend to keep finding ways to take better care of our staff while still making enough of a profit to stay in business. At the end of 2016 most of our staff will be paid at or near $15/hour, which is above the industry norm but still isn’t enough to, say, buy a house in New Paltz, where property values are bonkers. I can’t pay for health care for everyone, but I want to look into a group plan which would make it more affordable for everyone to pay for it themselves. And I’ll be instituting a system of a few paid days off every quarter and paying everyone’s regular wages when they need to take off for health reasons. I was deeply inspired this year by reading Judy Wicks’ Good Morning, Beautiful Business. It lit a fire under me to figure out innovative ways to run a business that’s sustainable in the most deep sense of the word.
- I have an all-new 16-piece beautifully crafted box of chocolates I never got a chance to show you or sell last year. I spent pretty much all my free time developing it, and I’m hoping it becomes a core product.
- We’re probably going to need to raise the price of truffles in our display case. We have to. Just truffles though. They just take so much time to make when compared with everything else. Caramels, ganache bonbons (i.e. square truffles), creams—everything else will stay at $2 a piece, but truffles have to be $2.25 if we want to continue to make them.
- I’ll continue working toward turning the business into a B Corp., which is a kind of corporation in which things other than dollars are taken into account in the charter of one’s business. However we’re still a little tiny bit small for that. So right now we’re just an LLC, and I’m the sole owner of it which is great. If I had a Board of Directors, and we were not a B Corp but a traditional corporation, the board would be legally required to act in ways that put profit above all. It’s the way the corporations are legally structured. But with an LLC the power is mine, I can do whatever I want, and since I haven’t run the business into the ground yet I figure I’ll just keep on keeping on in my obstinate silly fun way.
- Croissants! And bringing back Croissant Caramels. Annie, a relative newbie to our team, has a baking background, and I can’t wait to exploit her skills to the max by putting her on the most dreadful recipe of all time: vegan laminated pastry. Woo!
I have some more goals but man this is getting long.
Back to 2015.
I’m always really proud to donate to all the places we do. Mostly we can only do little gift certificates and things, but slowly we do more and more, which feels good.
Here’s a partial list of groups we donated to in 2015:
- We continue to give shop discounts to members of Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary and Catskill Animal Sanctuary, in addition to donating gift certificates to their events and cash donations when possible.
- The Rosendale Theatre Collective
- Elting Memorial Library
- High Meadow School
- Family of New Paltz
- Mohonk Preserve
- Skylands Animal Sanctuary
- Historic Huguenot Street
- PS 267
- ALIVE Rescue and One Tail at a Time
- Brown Paper Bag Movement
- Born Free USA
- Sunflower Art Festival
- Abolitionist Vegan Society
- Animal Welfare League
- Vida Vegan Con
- TMI Project
- SASHA Farm
- The Vagina Monologues
- The Humane League
- New York State Speech Language Hearing Association
- Unison New Paltz
- Sing Out International
Finally, my own 2015 highlight reel:
When we bought a new Selmi (fancy chocolate machine that keeps 50 lbs of chocolate in perfect temper all the time!) and barely blinked an eye even though buying the first took years of agony and scraping.
Maresa & Kate’s April Fool’s joke on me, which is too long and injokey to explain but which perked me up when my mom was in the hospital and starting to slide downward and I desperately needed perking.
When Kate took over making ice cream from me and was almost instantly better at it than me (humbling; wonderful).
Except when I made that Ants on a Log ice cream which was RIDICULOUSLY TASTY.
(thank you Neysha for this photo)
Watching Annie’s infant son Conor get bigger by the second when he comes in to get some Annie-food.
Jacob and Jared instantly building a gigantic Sukkot-style living awning after I offhandedly mentioned that we should do “something like this,” this being the 5th Avenue Lord & Taylor holiday decorations.
The Peanut Butter Caramel Ice Cream Bar, which was a 2015 goal realized through much kicking and screaming by our staff, who thought it wasn’t possible until they realized just how possible it is and love it like I knew they would (OK, yes, making it is a hell, but that’s why it’s $10!).
Our four year anniversary party was magical.
The royally strange chocolatier that is Shana Napoli sustained me so often in 2015 with her weirdnesses and wild energy.
Alexis & Adrienne inventing Pagan Bark was so special and wonderful–taking a random idea I had and running with it, watching it transform from this:
I loved the one Savory Dinner Series we did. Maybe in 2016 we’ll do two.
Listening to Meredith and Alexandra and my mom talk about animal rights in the shop: a memory I keep coming back to. My mom loved hanging out at the shop so much.
Keeping the little garden out front and growing the flowers we use in the Flower Tablets is always a highlight of my year.
We did SO MANY improvements to our little LL compound in 2015, but I bet Jacob will mention them in his roundup, so I won’t say anything except this: our new patio entrance wasn’t something we could really afford, but we did it anyway, and the beauty of it sustained me so deeply every minute afterward. Our pal Ian Taliaferro did such a magnificent job.
Alexis carving us pumpkins.
Let me know what you’d like to see us make and do this year, OK?
Next up! Staff favorites.
I wrote up these little babes & took photos of them for this Guardian article but they got cut (society isn’t ready for five paragraphs on gravy! Or maybe it was the mega-fluorescent photos I took of it.). Not to worry, everything lives forever on the internet. Enjoy!
Also–often people sign up to get posts on this blog in their email. I’m thankful for this but I seem to never really post on this blog, sadly. Much more informative are our various social media pages—be sure to check out Instagram & Facebook & Twitter, too, for the full Lagusta’s Luscious scoop.
OK let’s cook.
Oh—both of these recipes are adapted from Bloodroot.
Colcannon (Irish mashed potatoes with cabbage and kale)
If you secretly wish mashed potatoes could be pretty much the entirety of what you eat on Thanksgiving, Colcannon is the answer to the question you hadn’t dared ask. Mashed potatoes are fortified with just enough other sustenance to qualify as a main dish in this Irish wintertime staple. It’s also ridiculously fast and easy, and is adaptable to whatever looks good at the market: the kale can be substituted for other greens, though the heartiness of kale is a nice foil to the creaminess of the potatoes.
Makes 4-6 servings.
2 pounds floury potatoes (russets work perfectly), about 7 potatoes
vegetable stock, optional
2-4 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
1 cup full-fat coconut milk
Sea salt to taste
Fresh pepper to taste
2 cups cabbage, finely shredded
2 cups kale, finely shredded
- Peel any blemishes from potatoes but otherwise don’t worry about peeling. Boil in salted water (or vegetable stock) just to cover until a thin-bladed knife inserted into the center of a potato meets no resistance, about 15 minutes. Drain, reserving potato water.
- Mash potatoes with a potato masher, adding olive oil, coconut milk, ½ cup of the reserved potato water, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Barely cover cabbage and kale with remaining reserved potato water (adding more water if necessary) and cook until tender, about 10 minutes.
- Turn drained cabbage and kale into a frying pan and fry with a little olive oil until lightly browned. Stir into mashed potatoes.
- Leftover Colcannon can be reheated in a 350°F oven.
Instead of a strict gravy recipe, here are some guidelines for how to conceptualize and improvise a vegetarian gravy almost completely with ingredients already in your refrigerator. These guidelines make a lot of gravy—about five cups, which freezes well.
Begin with a strong vegetable base. Two onions, chopped, a pound or so of shiitake or cremini mushrooms (a mix is nice too), diced, works well. Anything in the onion family contributes to a hearty base: leeks, scallions, or shallots are great too. Fry them well in just a bit more good-quality extra virgin olive oil than you think you should use (about half a cup). When they’re just about ready toss in a lot of finely chopped garlic, 8 cloves or so? More is more in my book when it comes to garlic, but if you disagree then add less. Or, for an even warmer, richer flavor, roast a few heads of garlic and stir them in at the end of cooking.
Back to the pot: add just a little heat, to offset all that richness: stir in a shake or two of red pepper flakes, or purée a few dried, seeded, reconstituted mild chilies like ancho or guajillo, or add a little chipotle powder or even chili powder. Crush a tablespoon or so of dried herbs like basil, thyme, and/or oregano between your palms and add them. Let everything cook for a minute or two over low-medium heat, stirring often. Whisk in some flour to thicken and add body to the gravy: about half of a cup of all-purpose flour, or a gluten-free all purpose flour blend for a gluten-free gravy. Or, use a few tablespoons of cornstarch whisked with equal parts water then added to the gravy.
Now come the weird ingredients. They’re fairly optional, but the combination of all (or most) of them elevates an every day gravy to something you want to eat out of a bowl. Here we go: beer, miso, nutritional yeast, tomato paste, and soy sauce. Add a bottle of dark beer (make sure it’s vegetarian by checking lists online) to the pot and turn the heat to low. Fill up the beer bottle with water and add it too, then fill it up halfway again with water and toss that in. Add a few tablespoons of miso—a darker kind makes a more intense gravy, and a lighter kind makes a more smooth-tasting gravy. Your choice. If you have a little tomato paste hanging around, two tablespoons or so, stir that in too.
A small shower (two tablespoons or so) of nutritional yeast gives the whole thing a meatiness, and some good dashes of shoyu soy sauce (gluten-free tamari if you’re going the gf route) rounds everything out. Now, just bring everything to a boil (slowly, and stir often to make sure nothing’s burning), turn to a simmer, and cook for about a half hour. Taste and keep adding salt or water or nutritional yeast or soy sauce or whatever else your heart desires until it’s at absolutely perfect. If your gravy seems too chunky, purée a cup or so of it until it’s at the desired texture.
Sitting here in the cozy shop on the last day of the year, I feel so warm. This sweet year of my little made-up business is enveloping me, a cocoon of all the work we put in and all the chocolates we put out, everything we learned and threw ourselves into.
We didn’t get any huge press this year, like other years.
We didn’t move into a bigger facility or take on any giant-leap-forward loans, like other years.
We just put one foot in front of another.
It felt so good.
Before I get to the highlights from our crew, here are my own little triumphs and victories:
Hello sweet teeth,
Well first of all. People keep asking us if we’re going to have the Savory Dinner Series this year. I’m so pleased that so many people liked the weird little meals I dreamed up. Unfortunately, much to my sadness, we bought some new equipment this year that takes up most of the space we need for the dinners, so we’re skipping the series this year, though we might try to squeeze in one dinner or so later in the summer.
Speaking of indulgences: this Friday, June 27, is our 3-year shop anniversary celebration, and I so hope you’ll come. 8 PM, at the shop, dress up if you’d like. There will be lots of nice drinks, chocolates, cake made by Maresa, and maybe even a savory nibble or two. It’s our annual thank-you to our amazing customers and nurturing community—that means you!
See you Friday!
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.