best of 2018

Time for the novel that has become our annual best-of blog. Get yr tissues ready.

For best-of round ups from previous years, see

2017
2016
2015
2015 (more!)
2014
2013
2012

(Thanks for Ericka for taking our staff photo and setting up the selfie stand that produced all these gems at our holiday party!)

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A few highlights from me (Lagusta):

  • Um, I wrote a book. Sweet X Salty: The Art of Vegan Confections from Lagusta’s Luscious, forthcoming from Da Capo Press in Fall 2019.
  • We started ordering period supplies by the case because we employ so many bleeding humans. HIGHLIGHT!
  • Our chocolate supplier, Republica del Cacao, whisked me off to Ecuador and I spent a life-changing week learning about where these ingredients (chocolate, sugar) we interact with every day are born. (See the “Ecuador” story highlights on our Instagram for about a million stories from Ecuador)
  • My co-owner dropped out of the parts of the businesses we ran together (Commissary! plus the financial aspects of the other businesses)…and I assembled a team of crackerjack women and one man who picked me up off the floor and I got the finances under control and learned to do the things I didn’t know how to do and it’s all going great. Maresa’s still running Confectionery! with me, and she continues to be the best best friend and business partner I could have ever hoped for.
  • After three years of hard work, we launched a glorious new website.
  • We made a gigantic Tahini Meltaway for our 7thshop birthday party.
  • I got to photograph Chloe’s “heathen” tattoo next to Heathen Toffee.
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  • We made an unbelievable PB&J Meltaway that looked like a big slab of raw meat but it’s too wonky to make an everyday piece, which is a true tragedy.
  • Rachel and G taking over #rammissary (my bi-weekly ramen night, the only time I get to cook ever, sigh) when I was too busy with Christmas craziness, and knocking it out of the park was a treat to see.
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  • I continue to learn and grow by interacting with the 35 amazing humans who work at LL Industries every day. They make coming to work exciting and fun. I love watching them learn latte art and marbling chocolates, customer service and doing inventory. All I want for 2019 is more of the same.

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COMMISSARY

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MAX!

Walking towards Commissary before dawn, the ice crunching beneath my feet, I watch as a lone blue heron lands on the historic brick chimney jutting out of the roof of a neighboring building.

We enjoy observing each other momentarily, peacefully, until I punch in my code to head inside.

But unlike every other job I’ve had, heading into work feels similarly to arriving at a close friend’s home. I carry that sense of peace from the heron through the door and into the kitchen.

Work is where I get to see the people I love every day. It’s where I get to pursue something I honestly enjoy, enough where I get home at the end of the day and the first thing I do is continue preparing food. It’s where the famous Potato Stud lived with her dinosaur friend for months until she started sprouting little eyes and had to be put to rest (RIP). Creativity is honored in this space.

It’s where I feel at home with myself, a trans man, fully accepted and gendered correctly by the surrounding community. It’s a safe space for people of all walks of life, and if you don’t feel safe then there’s an open and caring conversation waiting to be had about how things could be improved.

Commissary has been more than a job for me in 2018, and the family I’ve gained just by walking through the front door is a priceless reward for coming to work every day. Together, we get things done, we grow, we succeed, we create a space people want to go. It makes every day worth it.

And yes, curious custies, everything here is vegan.

 

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HALEIGH!
I had just gotten back from spending my summer in Ireland WWOOFing. I was getting ready to start my final year of undergrad and I had burned through my money on many a nights spent at the local pub. A few days after my return, eager to replenish my rent money,  my brother’s girlfriend and I were chatting about Commissary! and she asked if I thought I would ever want to work there. I thought about it for a moment, and then responded telling her that I’m sure it would  be a cool place to work, but at the end of the day work is work.  I enjoyed the place too much, as a sanctuary for macrons and zines, to risk ruining the little haven I thought of it. Two days later, I scrolled through Instagram and saw a post about Shave Ice and Lagusta’s search for a person to work Sundays at the market. It was perfect! I could still come to Comm in my free time, but it was something I could do during the semester. Well, Shave Ice ended and I quickly picked up other shifts  within the cafe. A few months later and Commissary was never ruined for me as a patron. If anything, it is even better: I no longer have to tell the cashier my name & I even get a complimentary chocolate on occasion! I look forward to the months to come, both as an employee and custie.

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RACHEL!

2018, wow, this is the third one of these I’ve written! I can’t imagine not spending time in that little turquoise room on Church St. We’ve almost had 100% turnover since last year (so glad you’re still here, Jasper!) and somehow Commissary manages to retain the same heart.  (a la Doctor Who, changing bodies over and over again but still being the same in their core.) I’m not behind the counter so much any more, now I look at numbers on a screen more than I look at 8g (is that the right amount?) of miso soup in a bowl.  I am so grateful to Lagusta for being open to my job evolving into something new, for both of us really! And I’m grateful to still be able to put on my apron and my velvet work clogs for special food occasions (yaki udon! GRRamen!) Looking forward to 2019!

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CONFECTIONERY

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JENNA!

This is my first year working at Confectionery (well, I think prior to being officially hired I was in the shop often enough to count as an unpaid employee, and speaking of which, I’d like to apologize to whomever was working on the day that I brought my bike INSIDE the shop because I forgot my bike lock — if a customer attempted that nonsense while I was working now, I would of course smile and politely allow them to do so, but inside I would be SO MAD about having to sweep up the bike grit afterwards! BUT I DIGRESS). Aside from my first weekend on the job being Easter weekend, which was so bonkers that I think it might actually qualify as hazing, working here has been such a lovely way to spend my off days. The staff are so warm and generous, which I have learned through text and email and notes in the journal because we never actually work with one another, and I’m grateful to everyone — including the folks up in New Paltz who let me crash the chocolate shop for a training day back in April! — who has helped me ease into this role. I’ve really come to love our little shoebox and all of its weird quirks and wacky customers. Even though I’ve lived in the city for the better part of the last ten years and I was born and raised in New York State, nothing has made me feel more like a New Yorker than being a shopgirl at an artisanal vegan bakery in the East Village. I’ve gotten nearly-full punch cards for nearby coffee shops as a tip, I’ve met a million adorable dogs wearing sweaters more fashionable than anything in my own closet, I’ve perfected the art of tucking every single strand of my hair up under a baseball cap, and I’ve learned more about tempering chocolate and caramelizing sugar than I ever could have hoped for. It’s been a dream.

 

VERONICA!

Just a few short & sweet words for the year, which sped by at an electric pace. A few of my highlights include:

You, dear customers. Grateful that this (tiny) space fosters real live human connections. Each year that we’ve been open, we get busier and busier and I’m ever grateful to all of our incredibly kind, sweet, and cool customers I get to interact with on a daily basis.

The delicious return of the hazelnut sugarplum bars/bonbons – if you stopped into the shop this holiday season chances are you heard me going on and on about these gems. People, I just can’t help myself. I wait all year for these flavorbabes.

Garden mint macarons garnished with edible flowers from Maresa’s garden & LL flower tablets with edible flowers grown outside the upstate choco shop. I mean, are you kidding me? I can’t grow a damn thing but I love love love flowers. I’m awed every time this form of poetry comes back in season. A true delight.

Butter – did you know in the wintertime we often have Maresa’s big blocks of butter available? I’ve been vegan half my life but still vividly remember and miss the sweet creamy taste of the dairy version. No more. This is it! Try it! I like it slathered on good semolina bread or — what I eat often when I get home from work– melted in a saucepan with some minced garlic, hot pepper flakes and good pasta.

Rainbow cookies! No words needed.

Licorice. Dude, I’m drooling typing this. It’s nothing like the weird stuff my mother used to get from the health food store which made me think I hated licorice. Maybe if we all annoy Lagusta enough she’ll decide to make it year-round and then I can stuff it in my face whenever I want a salty sweet bite.

AMANDA!

Although I began at confectionery mid year, it feels like ive been there longer. The lead up to this magical place was what made it so amazing. Spring of 18, I was on a splurge of volunteering for every city harvest, vegan festival I can get my hands on- between the 8,000 gems I had a pleasure serving in nyc, to the smaller scale at asbury park. One particular morning of 96 degrees weather and being the only volunteer to show up I helped many vendors set up at the asbury event- there I met Maresa! I know, so meant to be. Now that I look back, that day changed so much in my life. I reached out to her via dm when she posted that confectionery was looking for a newbie to join the team. And here I am. That tiny space has taught me so much. Like, how can I manage my space, the customers and the product with min room? Can I do it alone? Confidence, self discipline, communication, and believing in yourself is the real job at confectionery. And the sweets, my goodness. They are magical, they are the future and they are made by two amazing women with much history behind them. Plus they are free of harm. The long drives to the shop had me listening to podcast that helped my headspace. And superiority burgerrrrrrr ugh! The tiny book store around the block that I can’t help but run to on my 30 min break. The music and artist I was never exposed to on our playlist. The nightly journal I look forward to communicating with such amazing people that I unfortunately, never get to see also has some bittersweetness to it. But mostly the idea of being trusted to run their beautiful shop. The discovery of Confectionery and every ongoing delicious treat will continue to be my highlight for many times to come-

LAGUSTA’S LUSCIOUS HQ

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KARA!

the winter holidays only come once a year and I am so thankful that the shop has a need for people who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to spend time in a little brick building at the bottom of town where the bustle is always going and the air inside always smells like chocolate plus a little extra something sweet and once you leave it you still smell the chocolate on you, days later you are still rubbing chocolate out of black clothing to wear back to work…I spent most of my time doing dishes (gladly so!) and in doing so I saw the degree of production volume the shop handles so efficiently, making and packing and selling little delights to be enjoyed by people literally around the world—even though I only spent 3 hours a week in the shop I still feel like I am a part of things. there were holiday parties that felt like the family holidays we all deserve, I met good people making good things with care and precision who I am so proud to know, and I felt happy in the purest of ways for the simple fact that I was involved in even the smallest capacity for the 2018 holiday season.

ERIKA!

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“you grow through what you go through” was my mantra of 2018. inside and outside of the LL universe, i found myself expanding further and faster than i could keep up with. mental illness can be tough in that way, always feeling like you’re trying to catch up. but in our little chocolate world, there’s always a kind soul within a few steps to reassure you that you’re doing just fine.

my coworkers curate an endless stream of support, love, and so so so much knowledge. since i’ve moved into the world of recipe-making this year, i’ve had to utilize that knowledge approximately every 4 minutes to learn the ropes (and there are sooo many ropes twisted and intertwined throughout our little world: some tiny, some obscure, some hidden, some not available at the moment for your recipe that’s currently on the stove.) every LL employee possesses a vast knowledge of the tiniest details that keep us moving forward, and they’re always happy to pass it along to those still in training.

however, since we’re all forever still in training as humans on this chaotic planet, we often exchange questions beyond the scope of our work: what kind of eco-friendly cat litter do you use? what show should i watch next? if you were a donut, what kind would you be, and why? growing alongside such an amazing group of people has shaped me into an ever-changing mosaic, displaying bits of the knowledge, expertise, and love that i have been lucky enough to absorb.

you grow through what you go through, but it matters too what you grow around, and i feel infinitely lucky to have roots at LL.

KATE!

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i know enough to know that joy and pride are fleeting, shifting forces, but i have to look to those terms when i think about the year in my job and the people i work with and the things we all make together in a little new paltz sugarbox. i love the parts of the year where we can’t make things fast enough, caramels get cooked then enrobed and then bought and i never ever hear from them, and then the next day we make the same ones all over again. i love working with people who care about the things they’re making as much as they care about each other. (both: a lot.) in 2018 i learned new things and flexed some old muscles and my only hope is that i keep on doing that: building it all up, taking a step back to give it a look.

LYDIA!

As a small farmer, I so appreciate the willingness of LL’s to hire seasonal staff. It has been fun to learn the behind-the-scenes efforts of another small food business. It is great to work in a place that also cares about food, laborers, and community development through economy!

SAM!

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here at LL, I constantly get the feeling that I’m being initiated into a secret magical order.

traditionally, initiation rites were passed down in an invisible line. knowledge traveled from person to person, hands to heart. legacies built through community and sharing.

in the world of the chocolatier, I see no difference.

as goes any fool’s journey -I dove in without questions, just a feeling and a knowing that I wanted to trust it.

here, a whole new craft. no textbooks no studying.

here, sweet skills are passed on like a torch.

here, where we learn from each precious person another way to work in this weirdo world of sugar.

and yeah at first you burn yourself with 261 degree caramel, but then you get the hang of it.

It is empowering to be apart of this wizarding world, to know that my time has been alchemized into gold with the support of the LL community.

I am grateful and honored everyday by the magic revealed.

MIKE!

My home was once on the other coast yet I always managed a visit to the slice of heaven Lagusta created. Then the wind carried me East and I landed back in the area. That same wind lifted me to LL and now I am (primarily) the Shipperman. I marvel at the collective spirit of those around me, such an amazing gathering of people creating the highest grade sweets imaginable. Everyone works at such a mind-bending pace, and everything always gets done and there is always laughter and smiles and positivity.  I feel blessed to be included in this wonderful adventure of integrity and solidarity. Especially when there are scraps (Maresa, I see you too). The energy is infectious, the discourse is delightful, and the chocolates, well, you know about them already.

JENN!

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2018: Local chocolatier becomes manager, is surprisingly overwhelmed at how crazy hard it is! Learning the business side of the business has been eye-opening. I have so much respect for everyone that crosses over from maker to manager. While it’s a bit sad to lose time at Selmi, it’s worth it to be able to spend time passing on my skills I’ve learned here. It’s been a true honor mentally tracking everyone’s growth as a worker and a person since I came here in good ol’ 2016 (remember that dumpster fire of a year?). I feel like a real proud mama bird, and nothing has ever been more fulfilling. Huge thanks to Lagusta, Kate, and Alexis for believing in me and teaching me their ways. I truly love every single human at this shop so much, it makes all of the stress induced eczema well worth it. Cheers to 2019, hope it brings even more love and growth.

ERICKA!

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2018 was really wonderful and great and also the opposite in some ways. I moved to New Paltz in August with my partner and cried a lot and was stressed until I got a job at the chocolate shop and never cried again, ever.

Just kidding but like barely because at my ten shift check in when Kate and Lagusta asked me how I was feeling I was being 100% serious when I said I genuinely am not used to being treated so kindly and feeling so comfortable talking to my coworkers (read: friends). Ow it hurts. I love y’all. These businesses are actually magical little vortexes filled with the best energy. I’m not sure how so many good people ended up in one place but I’m so grateful and happy to witness it. I hope in 2019 I’ll finally be allowed to touch the caramel. Thanks for filling the second half of my 2018 with so much knowledge, fun, and obscure band names. I appreciate you all more than you know//more than I can express xo.

HOLLY!

The thing I love most about working at Lagusta’s Luscious is the community of amazing, supportive, hilarious, and compassionate individuals that work beside me. I feel so blessed to know all of them and I’d like these wonderful people to know that they have made the most incredible impact on my life. Their goodness is infinitely inspiring and empowering.

Some of my favorite moments include:

Our endless conversations about our pets and all of the ridiculous things they put us through.

Erika accidentally pouring a Cambro of whip into her shoes and being a total champ about it.

Finally acquiring ceramics from Alexis and picking her brain about everything from recipes to business management.

Ramen and city trekking with Maresa, Sam, and Kim.

Realizing that Jenn is the only person who loves Christmas music as much as me.

But really, every moment is fantastic ❤

KAREN!

As a recent Manhattan->Hudson Valley transplant I joined the seasonal crew at LL headquarters this fall.  Having been a devoted customer of Confectionary! for the past couple of years I thought it would be an easy job to help support a product I love so much.  Veronica’s smiling cheer and loveliness at the shop also made me think – if such a nice, warm person can thrive at a retail job (unheard of) then this place must be run right.  I’ve worked in elementary schools, on construction sites, in theaters, and in a prison.  If the principal, the foreman, the director or the wardens are nice people, it shows all the way to the very bottom of the crew.  This is what has been confirmed in my last two months of this job.  There is not a prickly person in the bunch, only the hardest working, kindest folx I have ever had the pleasure to work with, assembled and inspired, if not occasionally pushed in the right direction, by a very kind lead.  I never thought that fudge scraps would be my second favorite to ANYTHING, but my favorite thing about this job has been the people.  And the fudge scraps.  But definitely the people first… the fudge scraps are a close second.

BAKER SAM!
I’d been coveting a secret (not-so-secret, if you ask anyone who knows me) dream of working here for a long time, when I decided to just take the plunge and offer up services– and by “services” I meant “will to learn”, because I’m as inexperienced as they come, having never worked in kitchens or food service or the baking world, which is where I am now. The first highlight of my year was being warmly invited to dive right in. Mostly I work independently during late night hours, learning to ID all of the many variables, developing rhythms, pushing process times and generally trying to understand my tasks in a way that eventually becomes muscle memory. But first there were mornings training with G, which was also a highlight. G has a grace in working with dough that was a pleasure to witness and that instantly set forth a clear picture of what to aim for. G kept a warm and fast-paced work environment, always maintained a great soundtrack (thanks for helping me rediscover the beauty of Wham’s “Last Christmas”!), was never afraid to step in and show me what I was messing up, and made sure that I had a baked good in hand for my morning walk home (you have to taste your product to understand it!) Other highlights: learning that dough can heal itself in wild ways (also learning that I’m about as sappy-spiritual about baking as anyone would have guessed); discovering what 8 hours on your feet doing physical labor feels like (the first two weeks, phew! A new appreciation established for the toughness of everyone who works here); entering into the lovely and complete communication processes that keep this place operating smoothly. In this space, this place, it seems it’s second nature to be highly considerate, generous, kind. Ultimately, it boils down to why I was interested in working here in the first place: I hope that something will rub off on me, that maybe I’ll be shaped by the company I keep. In doing hard work in an environment that has integrity built into its core, maybe I’ll hammer myself into some finer metal. The other day I opened up my wallet and found an index card with some scrawl written on it, no date, but it was over a year ago for certain. “I want to be a baker / the perfect balance / scientific equation / fermentation / who can I apprentice with?” I believe in working to learn, and I’m glad to be in a community that creates that opportunity. When I first sat down with Lagusta, I told her I might surprise myself with what I DIDN’T know, and she quickly reminded me that the opposite might also be true. A place with heart for people with a lot to learn. What a dream. Maybe next year this time I’ll have baker’s muscles.

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2012 Highlights (from the entire Lagusta’s Luscious crew!)

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Here’s how my little chocolate business has gone:

In 2003 Jacob and I started making truffles for family gifts, inspired, like all good things are inspired, by an article in Martha Stewart Living. I didn’t know what on earth I was doing.

In 2004 everyone we gave the truffles to in 2003 wanted more of them. And I saw that this was a little hole in the vegan marketplace, so I decided to start selling them on the internet. I made them once a month, in-between cooking for the meal delivery service I ran, and kept a little email mailing list I’d announce the shipment on. People would email me back to order, I would send them a PayPal invoice, and off their chocolates would go.

Things went pretty much like this until 2010. Over the years we got a website, a fancier ordering system, and a bunch more customers (not just friends). I made chocolates once a week, not once a month. It was nice. The chocolate holidays (Christmas, Easter, and, of course, V-day) slammed me, made it difficult to get my cooking work done and difficult to sleep. The chocolate side of things was growing, without me feeding it. (The meal delivery would have been growing too, but it was so exhausting that I kept it to 20 clients or less so I could manage it and have a reasonable life, too.)

In 2010 I decided to shut down the meal delivery service and focus on a sweeter life, with less onions to peel and less pots to scrub.

Here’s the difference, dish-wise, between the two jobs:

  • Meal delivery dishes took hours of scrubbing giant pots, leaving you with oniony, wrinkly hands and exhausted arms. 
  • Chocolate dishes can go right into the dishwasher with no scrubbing, and make the entire kitchen smell like hot chocolate.

Looking back, the choice was easy.

In 2011 we scraped up our pennies and borrowed pennies from wherever we could and bought the building. It was an 11-month-long odyssey, my friends (buying a building in foreclosure with almost no money—patient persistence is necessary, and since I am the most impatient person in the world, it was constantly tough for me. Thankfully, Jacob is amazing at smooth-talking banks and having patience, so while I was ranting and renting my garments with stress, he was cooly Making It Happen. It’s all detailed here, along with some TMIness about my own internal state at the time.)

Then began the renovation process (detailed rather haphazardly here). The word “renovation” still fills my heart with a cold chill. Oh, the months!

OH, THE MONEY! The delays, the work, the schlepping, the buying, the designing!

It was so much work.

(Was it worth it? Every night when I switch off the lights and lock the door [yes sometimes it’s technically morning when that’s happening, but still], I take a moment to look at the shop and get the same frisson of pleasure that I got the first day we opened. Opening the shop is my favorite thing I’ve ever done, and I love it every single day.)

We finally opened on June 28, 2011. (Jacob’s birthday! He was on tour in Europe at the time, and I sent him a photo of the shop and told him that instead of any presents [I was a little busy and a lot cash-strapped at the time, OK?], I got him a chocolate shop.)

It was fun from the start.

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2012 was our first full year of being open, and it brought lots of changes in our Luscious little world. Here’s a rundown of the biggest ones:

  • 2012 was the year we went from being a micro-business to a small business.
  • It’s the year I had to learn how to be imperfect in front of other people, too. 

The biggest change in my personal work world was how many more people I work with on a day-to-day basis.

As late as June of this year I was still clawing on to Solitude Sundays (what I always called them in my head) where I worked alone. Alone! It was super tough, yes (every time we had a party of five who all ordered Drinking Chocolates, I’d set a new record for how fast one person can stir ganache into hot almond milk, top it with almond whip, marshies, and cinnamon, pour it into a cup, put a lid on it, and get it to them), but I loved having a day all by myself at the shop, so quiet and still in the back of the house.

I could use all the space, live completely in my head, work on secret formless projects I didn’t have to chat about to anyone until they were more complete, nailed-down, ready to be tasted. Sometimes things like Thyme, Preserved-Lemon and Sea Salt Caramel need a little marinating time in one’s own head before they’re ready to be trotted out for a tasting. I’m like that (I used to be like that?)—I want things to be perfect before anyone sees them.

I’ll never go back to Solitude Sundays, I know that.

That’s a good thing, but it’s a little bittersweet, too. Change is good, Lagusta! Moving forward is good!

Now I work more collaboratively, and it’s one of the most exhilarating processes I’ve ever participated in. I’m continually blown away by the brilliant ideas of the women I work with, how they help me solve problems and come up with amazing new ideas. If I don’t have an idea down perfectly, I know I can bring it to them and they’ll help me make it better.

It’s terrifying not to perfect things before I show them to other people, but I’m getting better at it.

Around August, we ramped up like crazy for the chocolate season ahead. It’s good that we did. We needed every body we could cram in those 1000 square feet. And I LOVE the amazing women we hired. Still, it’s been a major shift for me in the way I always figured the shop would run. It’s so strange to me when an order, or even a Drinking Chocolate, goes to a customer and I didn’t have a hand in any of it—I didn’t make the ganache or fold the boxes or dip the truffles or even ship out the package. (I started doing this thing where I write “Enjoy! XO, L” on all the packages I ship out, like I’m a fancy person, like people should be excited to get packages from the great Lagusta herself!! Oy!)

All this is strange.

I know in the scheme of things we are still a very, very small business, and always will be, no matter how much we grow. But I always thought we’d be a micro business. Just me, with Maresa helping out when she wasn’t making cupcakes and cakes.  And it went like that for a long time—I’ve been unable to get rid of Maresa since the day 5 or so years ago when she showed up at my old kitchen in Rosendale and said she’d work for free. Now I’d pay her anything she asked because she’s not only the sister I never had, but also so essential to the business that I sometimes wake up from nightmares where she went on a short vacation (really though, Reesey, you should take more days off!). We’ve had other people working on the shop since it opened, but never more than 3 of us at a time. From when the Oprah thing came out (keep reading!) in November until we went to Hawaii we were averaging 5 people a day working in the shop, and there were a few days when I looked up and we’d crammed SEVEN PEOPLE, each working with elbows tucked in their little stations, stirring flavorings into ganache or checking the temperature of caramel.

Unbelievable.

  • The finishing of the façade.

This article came out about Chocolate in the Hudson Valley in the early part of 2012 in one of our the fine local alt-weeklies.  It mentioned all the chocolate shops in the HV except us. Our customers kept coming in and saying “Why didn’t they mention you???”

Everyone working in the shop was kind of outraged.

Secretly (ok, maybe not so secretly), I was pleased as punch. Do you know what this means? I kept saying to the little crew. We’re still an underground business!! 

The publisher of the magazine, however, happens to be a regular shop customer. One day he came in and apologized profusely about the omission. He didn’t happen to see the article before it went to press, otherwise he would have made sure they covered us. He promised some press to come to make up for the oversight.

I was honored, of course, but also a little rueful.

Being an underground business REALLY pleased me.

If it were up to me, we wouldn’t even have a sign on the door. I had this idea that we’d be a secret around town that you had to know someone to find. You’d open this unmarked, plain teal door and walk into a wild chocolate wonderland. How cool would that be?

As everyone reminded me, banks need mortgage payments in exchange for the building, and utility companies need money in exchange for power to power tempering machines. And student loans from a certain someone with a double major in English and Women’s Studies (oh, and the French minor) still has student loans to pay. So, concessions needed to be made.

Our friend Molly made our amazing sign. I liked it. Most particularly, I liked that it didn’t tell what we sold. Keeping the mystery!

In time though, everyone else got REALLY tired of saying, “We’re a chocolate shop!” to people who popped in just to ask what the crap it was that we sold.

So. Over my objections, we got these fancy letters for the front of the building. I got to pick out the font, and I picked Futura, so we could seem as much like we were living inside a Wes Anderson movie as possible.

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Speaking of the chocolate letters:

  • I made this really cool banner for the website. 

Maybe it’s not a year highlight to you, but to me, who manages to screw up the website majorly every time she touches it, who has pretty much been taken off website duty by Erin and Jacob, who are constantly tinkering and improving and fixing and perfecting, being able to make and upload the rotating banners on the top of the page was sort of a minor miracle.

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How Wes Anderson-y does it look??

  • I created the hardest, bestest recipe of all time. 

Oh, Peanut Butter Toffee Crunch Bars! Your butterfingery devils, you. How we love to hate you. 

  • Pate de Fruits.

I love these little gems. Finally making them after years of wanting to was so satisfying. The cantaloupe was my favorite, but I loved them all.

  • Ice cream. 

I LOVED making ice cream this summer (and milkshakes!). And we’ve got so many fun summery plans for cold treats to come, I can’t wait to share ’em…

  • Ridding the shop of corn syrup

I’m so proud of our Innovation of the Year: homemade organic cane syrup to replace corn syrup!

  • Flowers. 

Candied homegrown flower tablets. Sigh. My heart is bursting.

  • Molly’s window project

Our resident genius artist, Molly Rausch of Postage Stamp Paintings, painted our windows so beautifully, I don’t think we’ll ever take it down.

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  • Oprah Magazine + press

I guess I should stop with things that were important in my personal soul and all that and get on to the actual tangible markers of the year.

One of those was that we got some mega press.

We were in a bunch of local magazines and papers, and that 1/4 page mention in Oprah magazine sure raised our profile quite a bit. From when the magazine came out until the end of the year, we were solidly slammed with orders.

  • Donations

Not being so terrified that we weren’t going to make mortgage payments every month has meant that we can afford to do more donations!

I knew there was a reason why being a bigger business was good—this is one of the major reasons.

As someone who always figured she’d be a penniless activist for a “living,” doing good is a huge part of our mission at the shop. Nothing feels better than being able to support the groups, people, and work we believe in. Here’s a partial list of donations we did in 2012:

  • The wildest Halloween ever.

There were so many sad events in the wider world this year. They’re beyond the scope of this blog post, but it’s crushing to remember them.

Hurricane Sandy was responsible for the cancellation of the Google NYC Halloween party, for which the Google folks had ordered hundreds of chocolates from us. They said we should give the chocolates out to New Paltz trick or treaters, which meant we had the craziest, most fun (in spite of the Sandy sadness living in our hearts) Halloween ever in the shop, which was crammed with people for hours and hours—long after the chocolate ran out, actually. My oh my does word spread fast in this town.

  • The dough sheeter!

We bought a dough sheeter, thus ending 10 months of a croissant desert that we (me!) barely survived. Croissants are back forever, woo!

The most fun and the most work I’ve had in a long time (which is saying a lot—I have a lot of fun and work a ton on the regular). I hope it continues forever. We did two dinners last year (you can see millions of photos of ’em at the link above), this year I’m hoping to do one a month March-October.

  • Partnership with Tuthillltown Spirits

Tuthilltown has quickly become a household name in the Hudson Valley as well as the country (the world, maybe?) for well-crafted whiskies and more. We were honored when they asked if we wanted to partner up on a special chocolate to be sold in their distillery shop. Our Four-Grain Bourbon Caramel Chile Bars are one of our best-sellers, and it’s always so nice to meet people who found us from a bar they tasted at the distillery.

The whiskey is delicious on its own, too, which is nice for a whiskey drinker like me. Manhattans (and chocolate!) for all!

I asked everyone who works at the shop for their best-ofs, too:

  • DawnMarie: Unlike everyone else, is probably out having fun and not immediately responding to emails, so I’ll update this post with her best-ofs when I get ’em. (I’m hoping one of her favorites will be that crazy day she wrapped ten zillion bars…)
  • Favorite thing to make:
    Sundaes in the summer!  Especially with gooseberries on top. (Customer-“you mean the ice cream, marshmallows, AND whip are all vegan? *face lights up*)
  • Favorite thing I ate:
    Chocolate- ginger orange blossom truffle
    Cupcake- pistachio & rosewater
    Savory- latkas with sour cream & apple sauce!
    Drink- lavender lemonade
  • Highlights:
    -Learning from and working with empowering, progressive, and witty women. Plus Jacob!
    -Actually being able to eat anything in the shop without worry of the ingredients.
    -Listening to good music all day
    -Maresa’s cake scraps!
    -Lagusta’s training nights & whatever she cooks for us.
  • Favorite moments:
    I was having just your typical case of the rainy-pms-ing-monday-finals week-blues. My day turned around when I walked into work and my senior recital was being played as the shop’s music. What a supportive, loving feeling. And then I got to make chocolate all day. Chocolate shop therapy at its finest.
  • During one of our busy days, I messed up and used black rasberries instead of red rasberries for a recipe and I already added in the balsamic syrup. I felt awful even telling L since we were pressed for time but  she didn’t even break a sweat. She just looked at it and went, “don’t worry- I’ve got an idea!” And just like that she made a tangy, fruity, amazing truffle out of my mistake- with black rasberries, balsamic syrup, lemon, lime, and strawberry that the customers all loved! Lesson learned: when life gives you lemons, make a new chocolate.
  • Jayme: 
  • Favorite thing I made: Holler Mountain bark. The first thing I made from start to finish. 🙂
  • Favorite thing I ate: Pear, clover, & brown sugar cupcake.
  • Beet coriander truffle!
  • Highlights: when Non vegans walk in and are surprised & impressed that we are a cruelty free/Vegan shop. When vegans realize they can have ANYTHING they want! Putting bows on a zillion barks.

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  • Eating any food that Lagusta makes us (awww). Learning some real knife skills. Being able to work in an amazing, caring, human/animal/environmentally conscious environment.
  • Favorite Moments: Working from 10a-730p with Maresa & Lucy without sitting down once and then enjoying a Taco Shack feast before finishing up the last 3 hours of work.
  • Erin:
  • Dipping truffles. (LY note: Erin is really great at dipping truffles!)
  • Making ganache start to finish is pretty fulfilling- from the recipe, to flavoring, piping, rolling, dipping, decorating…
  • Favorite moment was the night we all did yoga together, talking about our favorite poses. (very inflexible LY note: THIS WAS MY LEAST FAVORITE MOMENT.)
  • Favorite eating was shiitake sea salt truffle, RSSC (Rosemary Sea Salt Caramels, natch), and turtles- and mac and cheese! (LY note: I like making snacks for the crew!)
  • Funniest was when I called her “teal nail girl.” (LY note: Maresa and I almost hired her right off the bat because her nails matched our logo. [Even though you’re not allowed to paint your nails in a food service environment. But this was just at the interview, so it was OK.])
  • Fave customers- maeve and julian 🙂
  • Fave times- when vegans come in expecting one or two vegan things and get SUPER EXCITED when they fing out every last thing is vegan. (LY note: this is my fave time too.)
  • Jacob:
  • STUMPTOWN! And indulging in a coffee obsession and taking it to unforseen heights.
  • Maresa’s macarons!
  • Sweet Pea Green Tea chocos.
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  • Lucy:
  • Turtles. (Lucy is our turtle expert, for sure.)
  • I loved learning how to make caramels.
  • Christmas rush. in the middle of it, I realized how much all of us has learned and how we could just bang it all out and do a good job.
  • Favorite eating was pickle tempura, and chocolate lemon confit caramel.
  • Fave customers- any shy old men. and the Smylies. also, the guy who gets gifts for his girlfriend “just because he loves her” and is always really polite.
  • BOTH Erin and Lucy loved the chocolate tasting night!
  • Maresa:
  • Favorite eating: every last bite of the savory dinner (LY note: Maresa came as a diner! It was so great to cook for her.). and, apple caramels. and maui macadamia cream.
  • Successfully making pb bars in less than one day (this happened once. it’ll go down in history like rudolph).
  • Favorite customer: susan blickstein, who was with us through our coffee evolution, and would always give the lowdown on town-happenings.
  • Favorite moment: sitting on the bench with L, eating pistachio ice cream, and comparing legs. also, realizing that our gals are totally the best ever. (LY note: this is my favorite moment, too.)
  • Jeeeze, there’s a lot more!

Fun events, amazing customers (truly, amazing), delicious tempeh, our anniversary party, so many delicious chocolates (cream eggs!), wrapping paper with yours truly’s mug on it, the back room renovations, PARIS, that crazy cute caramel apple I made!

But this is getting too long, and I’ve got to start my New Year’s Eve dinner preparations.

If you have Lagusta’s Luscious-related highlights to share in the comments (or on Facebook or Twitter), I’d be honored.

updates and press

Hello chocolatey friends!

We’ve been busy bees as usual in our little luscious land. Summer was busy in the shop, fall is busy in the shop (two words: LEAF PEEPERS!), and now the online shop is picking up, as it does when the weather turns. Phew! Adding to the madness is a pretty lovely mention of our chocolates in the November issue of Oprah magazine–check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

We also did a fundraiser I’m really proud of: my friend Nicole’s pup Beija has cancer and she needs help paying her vet bills. With the promise of a little candy as a reward, the lovely crew of Lagusta’s Luscious customers raised $1500 for her care. Amazing!

You can still donate, too—just go to Nicole’s blog here.

What a wonderful fall it’s been. Wonderful customers, fun chocolates to make, awesome people to work with. Not too shabby.

Talk to you soon!

 

Take my recipe—PLEASE! (How to make your own Butterfingers!)

OK, you can also buy them from me, but I HIGHLY

HIGHLY

HIGHLY

recommend making them yourself.

Because if you don’t, we have to make them and…um. I know I’m not supposed to say this, because candy-making is supposed to be all rainbows and sunbeams, but making these is actually rather torturous.

But we’re going to keep making them forever, because they are, horribly, one of the tastiest things we’ve ever made.

After we sent these out to club members as part of the Chocolate of the Month, we almost instantly got a bunch of reorders. Here’s what one said:

Just a note to say that yes indeed, I intended to order 20 of the peanut butter bars. My husband requested one a day for a month, and we compromised at 20. They are phenomenal!

And

This bar blew my mind! The flaky layers on the inside—not too hard, not too crumbly, not too sweet, just perfect—replicate, nay, upstage and outshine the “real” butterfingers of my youth. This is by far the best vegan candy I have ever tasted. Make it a staple!

And

OMG I love this bar!! And I never liked Butterfingers. That is all.

And

I don’t eat candy and I ate an entire one last night. It was so good.

And

I just had one – and…. Yes, you are going to be making them for the rest of your life!

And

It really rocked!

So, well—argh.

Here’s the recipe. Please share my pain at what a pain it is.

Let us begin our journey.

Peanut Butter Toffee Crunch Bars

(that’s what we call them since we can’t really call them Butterfingers)

Oh wait, we also call these:

The Ridge Bar

Because their beautiful striated layers are reminiscent of the gorgeous mountain range 10 minutes from the shop, the Shawangunk Ridge, which is famous for its stratified folds.

Enough chitchat.

1. CLEAR THE ENTIRE DAY. You will have 24 bars at the end of this epic saga. We do four times this recipe, and we swear like sailors the whole time. In fact, I whined so much about making these that in the end Maresa took over the recipe (now we call these bars Mareese’s!) in order to save everyone’s sanity from my endless whimpering.

I could just tell she thought I was protesting a bit too much about what an ordeal it was. Because of this, I greatly looked forward to her whack at the ol’ recipe.

About halfway through, she turned to me and said, “You know what? This is ridiculous!!

And I laughed and laughed, safely on the other side of the kitchen, deep into the wonderful world of truffle-making I was ensconced in—beautiful, beautiful truffle-making! How unpeanutbuttery it is! How many you can make at one time! How not molten hot it is! (Even though other chocolatiers gasp when they find out we make hand-rolled truffles—no one does it these days because it’s so time-consuming, instead everyone makes these square thingies with something called a guitar cutter and an enrobing machine, which are fine to make other things but truffles are called truffles because they’re handmade looking, like truffle mushrooms, and round, like truffle mushrooms, and AHHH SQUARE TRUFFLES!! DON’T GET ME STARTED!!—making truffles is pretty much instant compared with these PB bars.)

Here’s Mareesey after finishing a portion of the batch of bars:

Ready to feel the same way?

Let’s go.

Have you ever made croissants? If so, you’ll have a slight jump on this recipe, which is basically the croissant-making technique (puff pastry) crossed with molten hot sugar that requires you to work superfast. It’s a technique called leaf croquant, if you wanna get technical about it.

2. Make your filling.

400 grams peanut butter. We use organic, salted, smooth pb.

60 grams confectioners’ sugar

30 grams cane syrup—we make our own based on this recipe. You could use glucose syrup or corn syrup or probably even brown rice syrup or agave syrup.

  1. Melt pb in a bowl in a double boiler. Add sugar (sift it in) and syrup and knead until malleable and smooth.
  2. Form into a square 10” x 10” (mine in that photo is pretty ragged, yep.). Keep warm in oven.

3. Make your caramel. This is a dry caramel. It takes a bit o’ practice, but it’s a fun technique (I’m not being ironic, I really do enjoy dry caramel making). This photo shows a gross looking scale, because I melted my scale by putting the hot caramel pot on it when I added the cane syrup to the caramel, as described below. Fun times! The scale still works! (It also shows the filling recipe in progress the one time I forgot to sift in the powdered sugar—look at those lumps! Oy. That was a fun batch [I am now being ironic, it was a giant pain.])

¼ tsp lemon juice

450 grams sugar

60 grams cane syrup (see above)

  1. Rub lemon juice into sugar. Make a dry caramel by cooking, stirring slowly but constantly, until sugar is evenly melted and becomes a medium amber color (about 10 minutes. Sugar will not be perfectly dissolved and smooth when the color is medium amber, but if you keep cooking it to try to get it perfectly smooth it will burn and you won’t realize it until later. This is hard to explain.). Turn heat to low, add syrup (it will bubble up, and if you’ve burnt it you’ll realize it now because it will get really dark.), and stir until emulsified.
  2. Pour caramel into a 12” x 12” square on a silicone baking mat (a Silpat) or parchment paper on a full size sheet pan. (DO NOT SKIP THE STEP OF PUTTING DOWN PARCHMENT OR SOMETHING BETWEEN THE CARAMEL AND THE SHEET PAN! I can’t even imagine what fresh hell you’d be into then, trying to scrape magma-like sugar off your sheet pan for the next hour or so.)
  3. Place the square of pb filling onto one end of the caramel, leaving approximately 1” on all sides. Or thereabouts.
  4. Fold mat and caramel over the filling to enclose it.
  5. Peel mat off and tightly seal edges of the caramel to envelop filling.
  6. Put sheet pan in a 200°F oven as necessary to keep warm. You’ll know when to put it in the oven—when it starts driving you crazy and hardening up and cracking, like this:
  7. When it comes out of the oven, the caramel will sometimes get so melty that it spills over, like this. That’s OK. Just work fast.
  8. Roll slab into a thin rectangle then fold into thirds.
  9. Roll slab to ½” thick, to a 12” x 12” square. Fold into thirds again. You’ve done one turn. Repeat steps to do four more turns, putting the sheet pan in the oven as necessary in order to make the dough workable.
  10. Obviously, working as quickly as possible will make your life a lot easier. But try not to burn yourself with all this business of taking pans in and out of the oven and handling super hot sugar dough. Oh, and around the second to third turn, your arms will start really aching. This dough is really hard to roll out, what can I say.
  11. After the fourth turn, cut the 12″ x 12″ sheet into 3 rows by 8 rows, to make 24 bars.
  12. Dip into tempered chocolate (uhhhh…Google it? Buy a tempering machine? Just smear melty chocolate over ’em!).

Just typing that up exhausted me.

Luckily, I happen to have a certain indescribably delicious candy bar right here to pep me back up. HOLY CRAP THIS BAR IS SO GOOD!


A How-To for Vegan Sugared Flowers. And about a million photos of same.

Once I wrote a blog post about how to make vegan sugared flowers (also called candied flowers).

These days I candy my homegrown flowers every week or so (helloooooo summer!) for these simple flower tablets I’ve been making for sale in the shop (too delicate to ship, sorry!)—just candied flowers and pure chocolate, inspired by this—and Maresa makes a lot for her cupcakes too, so the two of us have learned a lot of tips since I wrote that post.

Here’s an update to the above-mentioned post:

  • Don’t use the flax seed eggs I recommend in that blog post. In time, your flowers will get yellowy/brown from it. Also, it’s a bit of a pain to make.
  • These days we just use any old starch instead of the flax seed eggs: Maresa started using that egg replacer powder stuff you can get in health food stores, then I used cornstarch one day, and now we mostly just use a quick cornstarch slurry. Heavy on the cornstarch, light on the water. You need to stir it up pretty often. I have a feeling xanthan gum or potato starch would work just fine too. 
  • Maresa and I do this technique of roughing up super fresh flowers with our thumbs before we paint on the starch slurry—just-picked flowers are sometimes so dewy that the starch just slides right off. 
  • Obviously, be sure to use organic cornstarch, since you don’t want some gross GMO cornstarch on your beautiful flowers! (And if you aren’t using organic cornstarch, it almost definitely is genetically modified.)
  • My newest thing is backwards candying. I really like the effect of putting flowers on whatever you’re putting them on (in my case, chocolate) backwards, so I often candy the least-pretty side. Backwards flowers have a pretty sugary edge, and a brighter (non-sugary) face, and they seem to hold up just as well as ones that are candied on both sides (I can’t say for sure how long they hold up because the tablets usually sell within a few days…). I’ll try to remember to take a photo to show you.
  • Like this guy, I spent a lot of time this spring candying lilac petals. I cannot tell you what a giant pain this was. I have no tip. Just giant pains. 
  • Like Joe Pastry mentioned above, I also color my sugar (regular organic evaporated cane juice sugar I make superfine by whizzing it in a food processor for a few seconds, as mentioned in the original post). I use organic food colorings from Nature’s Flavors. They’re hella expensive, beware.
  • Did you know peonies are edible? Neither did we. Did you know peonies taste awful? Neither did we. Now we know both.

OK, that’s all I’ve got.

Have fun! HAPPY SUMMAH!

Mother’s Day

First: if you want a daily dose of chocolate gorgeousness and general Lagusta’s Luscious TMI, Facebook is really the place for you. Or Twitter, if that’s how you roll.

Nextly: Mother’s Day is coming up. I wanted to take a moment to inform/remind/enlighten you to the fact that we make an entire line of chocolates named for the womens, including one named for my very own mom, one Pauline Benjamin Dubkin-Yearwood, that being Peanut Butter Cups (get it? PB!).

Moving along: Did you see this insanely lovely blog post about us? No, Well, go forth, then.

And finally: this very Sunday we will be at the New Paltz Regatta selling gorgeous hand-painted (and handmade, if you want to get particular about it) chocolate ducks to raise money for our local food pantry, Family of New Paltz. Every year hundreds of rubber ducks are raced in the Wallkill River to raise money for Family (personally this doesn’t seem super duper earth-friendly, but I’m told scrupulous care is taken to remove them all [but then where do they go?]), so that’s why we’re making ducks. 50% of the sales of each duckie will go straight to Family, so come on out!

Onward.

Yours,

Lagusta Pauline*

*You’re right that Jews aren’t supposed to be named for living people, and that my lovely mom is still very much living. Tell that to my goyishe dad!

why we won’t have croissants for a while / generalized grumpiness about the entrepreneurial life

I’m really proud of our croissants.

They’re gorgeous, buttery to the max, and entirely vegan, yet not made with horrible artificial crap. The only ingredients are local organic flour, beautiful organic coconut butter, sea salt, organic coconut milk, a bit of organic sugar and a pinch of yeast.

I’m always thinking about how making chocolates epitomizes the idea that something can be “simple, but not easy.” That’s the croissants recipe to a tee. So simple, but it’ll take you five hours to make it. When I make them for the shop, I make 100 or so at a time, late at night while I watch movies and make Jacob hang out with me, then I freeze them and bake just a few a day, which sell out in the morning and then that’s it until tomorrow, because day-old croissants aren’t the perfect apex of ultimate perfection, so out they go. (We make Croissant Caramels with any leftovers at the end of the day!)

Around the holidays last December, I just couldn’t cut it anymore. My late nights were spent making chocolates for the flood of orders, and something had to give. So no croissants for a while. Then I went on vacation. When I came back I made a batch, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t incorporate the coconut oil into the batter efficiently enough, and it all leaked out when they were baking. I had a feeling the batch wasn’t going well, but I was tired and didn’t want to do another “turn” (folding the dough like an envelope and rolling it out into a thin sheet is called a “turn.” My recipe has four of ’em.) so I just went with it and they were not fit for eating and were barely fit for grinding into crumbs for Croissant Caramels. When you make a recipe that potentially brings in $300 (100 croissants x $3 each), ruining it pretty much ruins your day. But it happens, and I was gentle on myself and decided to just not make croissants again until after the next crazy time, Valentine’s.

You might have noticed that it’s now mid-March and no croissants have been forthcoming.

I’m trying to find ways to make the shop (which I love) compatible with not working 100 hours a week (which I do not love), and it seems that somehow croissants just aren’t compatible with that goal. The other thing about croissants is that in order to make them as fluffy as possible the coconut oil needs to be as cold as possible, which means that rolling it out is a major workout for your wrists—rock hard fat on top of cold dough. Can I say it again: not easy.

Unless, that is, I buy something called a dough sheeter. A dough sheeter is basically a giant pasta machine, the kind you might have gathering dust in your garage that you always mean to break out to make some homemade ravioli but never really do (I have 3. Sigh.). When I buy a sheeter, we’ll be croissantizing up a storm, because the dreaded rolling step is taken out of the equation—the dough just magically passes through the sheeter four times and presto, done!

But a sheeter is $1000-$1500. So: not easy.

And here’s where I get grumpy about being a small business owner, particularly a vegan one. There seems to be this trend in the vegan world of for-profit businesses asking for donations in order to start up or stay in business. This infuriates me. I know the money donated to these donut shops or bakeries who want to buy an espresso machine (yep) comes from well-meaning animal advocates, which means it’s not going to wonderful animal charities who desperately need the money. Not that small businesses don’t need money—hoooo boy, they do. We do. But (and I know I’m making myself sound really high and mighty here, and it’s probably because I feel really really really high and mighty about this) no matter how much I want a dough sheeter (and no matter how much you might want croissants!), I couldn’t live with myself if I put up a Kickstarter.com campaign to get my pals and customers to “donate” to the “cause” of me making money.

We’re still slowly doing renovations on the building the shop is in (stay tuned for a fun announcement, around next month or so!), we still have to pull off all the ugly siding on the outside of the building, spring is coming and I really want to buy a cool bike rack and some beautiful landscaping outside the shop, quarterly sales tax is due—it’s going to be a while until that sheeter enters my life. But that’s just the way it goes.

And that’s the story—a bittersweet one, you could say—of why we don’t have croissants right now.

But soon!