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.
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.