breakfast soup: a way of life.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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!

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There are three components to a great Breakfast Soup:

  1. Broth.
  2. Stuff that goes into the broth.
  3. Things you add in at the end.

Broth.

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.

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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:

  1. Learn to like seaweed. Or:
  2. 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 defrosted this vacuum-sealed milkweed to put in my BS, but then I saw some pasta dough in the freezer too, and instead I mixed it with soft cashew cream cheese and made little raviolis for dinner. Oh wintery freezer! Sometimes you're OK, you know that?

I defrosted this vacuum-sealed milkweed to put in my BS, but then I saw some pasta dough in the freezer too, and instead I mixed it with soft cashew cream cheese and made little raviolis for dinner. Oh wintery freezer! Sometimes you’re OK, you know that?

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 ramble on a lot more about miso here. And this is a blog post I wrote about many many other ways you can use miso. I REALLY LIKE MISO, OK?

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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.

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Savory Dinner highlights and previews for 2013

Last year I was honored to cook a series of spectacularly popular (if I do say so myself…) savory dinners in our little back room at the shop.

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This year I’ve planned one dinner a month, starting in early May and ending in October (when our holiday chocolate orders become so intense that doing anything but making chocolates becomes impossible). I wanted to share with you some highlights of the menus I’m planning, but unfortunately I don’t have dates yet for most of the dinners. My partners in the dinner series are Jacob, who takes care of all the logistics like designing the menu and the table and transforming the back room from a chocolate box-packing factory into a beautiful, twinkling dining room; and Lucy, who is our beautiful hostess and always makes herself flashcards about each dish so she can answer every diner’s question about it.

Without these two this little scheme couldn’t happen, and because Jacob sometimes tours around with indie rock bands as a sound engineer, it’s super-duper hard to make plans for when he’ll be around to work at his much more important job of setting the table.

So, we’ll be adding dates as soon as humanly possible.

In the meantime, it might be a good idea of subscribe to this blog (I think there’s a button somewhere where you put your email in and every ice age or so when I post something you’ll get an email…) so you’re the first to know when tickets go on sale. The very first thing we do is post a blog post about each offering, and post on our Facebook page.

We’re hoping to do each dinner for two or three days with ten seats at our big communal table for each day, but last time those 20-30 seats sold out in a few hours, so, ya know, stay in the loop! : )

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Coupla things:

  • Unfortunately we can’t accommodate substitutions for the menu, although if there is a complimentary alcohol beverage we can make you a virgin one—just tell us when you place your reservation.
  • You wanna bring your own alcohol? Bring it! (Glasses of whatever you’re drinking sent to the kitchen wouldn’t be turned down…)
  • Dinners contain all kinds of things like nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, & sugar—but never any dead animals or animal products. ‘Course not!
  • If you have a birthday in your party, let us know when you place your reservation.
  • Every menu has “mignardises.” These are a secret treat we give you at the very end of the meal to take with you…or eat as you linger with your new besties all night long!
  • Dinners are $60 per person, plus tax.

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Please note that these dishes are only partial highlights of the menus—each menu will be 8-12 courses (yep) and will definitely be changing depending on what I can weasel out of farmers that week. There are just a few teasers and working ideas to get you excited. 

May 2013: Imagined Shanghai

  • Lychee and pink grapefruit slushy
  • Xiao long bao: soup dumplings: pockets of tender dough with a soupy surprise
  • Braised eggplant with stinky tofu
  • Hushi Suanla Geng: Hot and Sour Soup with woodear mushrooms and daylily buds
  • Dry fried green beans
  • Hand pulled street cart noodles with XO sauce and fried arame
  • Ma-po tofu
  • Dessert congee
  • Corn ice cream with burnt sugar caramel
  • Mignardises

Early June 2013: Forager’s Delight

  • May wine with Japanese knotweed straws
  • Almond deviled eggless eggs with backyard chives and sautéed daylillies
  • Schav (Yiddish sorrel soup) with garlic chives, white chicken mushrooms and fried pickle lace
  • Creamed spring spinach, garlic mustard, and dandelion with burdock
  • Beet salad with woodruff, cashew cheese, radish, yuzu, and pine oil dressing
  • Spring mushrooms (ideally morels and chanterelles, we’ll see what’s out there in the world!) with ramp béarnaise
  • Lilac sorbet with strawberry flowers (if Pete will sell me some, even though “Why would you want the flower, when a few weeks later you could have a STRAWBERRY?” “Because it’s pretty, Pete! Please!”) and fraises du bois (foraged by moi, those)
  • White chocolate mousse with chamomile sauce
  • Mignardise: Spruce sablee cookies

Late June/Early July 2013: Early Summer in Paris

  • Vodka gimlet with basil-meyer lemon syrup
  • Socca (chickpea flour crepes) with braised Belgian endive
  • Soupe au pistou with creme de pissenlits (dandelion cream)
  • Compressed asparagus with nasturtium leaves, candied peas, and baby leek vinaigrette
  • Molecular nicoise salad with olive oil spheres
  • Potato gratin with swiss chard
  • Shiitake stroganoff with straw potatoes
  • Crêpe cake with fresh Huguenot Street mulberry jam
  • Chocolate chervil tart with tempura strawberries and mint
  • Mignardises

Late July 2013: A holiday in Corsica

  • Roasted lemonade with vanilla bean muscat
  • Minestra with heirloom beans, cabbage, applewood smoked potatoes
  • Fresh apple and parsley vinaigrette with lamb’s quarters
  • Pea mousse with lemon
  • Mediterranean braised green beans
  • Swiss chard cannelloni with eggplant fries
  • Lavender-melon soup
  • Torta Pisticcina (chestnut flour tart) with candied zucchini
  • Mignardises

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August 2013: Mad Men Summer

  • Peach punch with thyme
  • Barbecue potato chips with caramelized onion and shallot dip
  • Heirloom iceberg lettuce salad with cashew blue cheese dressing
  • Cream of tomato soup with fried curly parsley
  • Macaroni and cheese casserole with croissant crumbs and potato cracklings
  • Gin and Tonic gelee shots
  • Deep dish peach pie
  • Chocolate-covered neapolitan ice cream bombe
  • Mignardise: Chocolate caramel nougat bars with chocolate Bavarian cream

September 2013: Smoke and Spice (for people who like spicy, super weird dishes)

  • Manhattan with local whiskey and smoked ice
  • Citrus salad with fried rosemary, olives and long pepper
  • Green chile corn chowder with smoked oyster mushrooms
  • Invisible ravioli with homegrown tomato ragoût
  • Cauliflower with rye crumbs and sage air
  • Salim: Thai green bean noodles with incense-smoked coconut syrup
  • Grilled pineapple tart with raspberries and aleppo pepper cream with oven dried pineapple
  • Mignardise: Fiery hot pepper smoked sea salt caramels

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October 2013: Fermentation Fetishist’s New York Deli

  • Pickleback
  • Shrub
  • Soft sourdough pretzels with violet mustard
  • Beet and celery root tartare with horseradish and caraway
  • Beer brined kale salad with yuzu kosho
  • Onion soup with sage, croutons, cashew cheese “truffle” slices, and lemon peel
  • Tiny tempeh reuben with four homemade fermentations (gin caraway sauerkraut, sourdough rye, cashew cheese, housemade tempeh)
  • Peaches and cream ice cream cake
  • Mignardise: Black and white cookie with white miso

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It’s going to be a fun year!

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.

new banner copy

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.

40+ uses for miso! YES!

First, check out my miso primer post. Then, let’s get down to business.

40 (plus!) uses for Miso:

  1. As an emulsifier. If you make salad dressings at home, you will quickly tire of using mustard as an emulsifier for simple vinaigrettes. White miso works just as well (if not better) at helping those continual enemies, oil and water, to play nicely together. Be sure to use less salt than usual when using miso in dressings.
  2. As the star ingredient in a salad dressing. Though a touch of miso can help to emulsify a standard vinaigrette without contributing much flavor of its own, it can also anchor many different salad dressings. Here are a few ideas:
  3. Miso-tahini dressing: The health food restaurant classic. Blend together white or brown miso, tahini, a neutral oil like grape seed, shoyu, and a little garlic chile sauce (if desired), minced garlic (if desired), ginger juice (make ginger juice by grating ginger then squeezing out the juice), brown rice or apple cider vinegar (lemon juice is also nice), and fresh pepper to taste. Add water to make a smooth consistency.
  4. Caesar salad dressing: There’s a guideline for a recipe here.
  5. Lime-sesame-peanut dressing. Combine peanut butter, agave nectar or maple syrup, sesame oil, white miso, brown rice vinegar, shoyu, and lime juice to taste. If you have any lime oil (Boyajian makes wonderful citrus oils), add a dash as well. Blend with warm water to make a smooth consistency.
  6. Ginger-carrot miso vinaigrette: Combine grated carrots, minced or juiced ginger (use a Japanese ginger grater to get ginger juice quickly and easily), a tiny amount of minced garlic, rice wine vinegar, a spoonful of your favorite miso, and toasted sesame oil and olive oil. Combine well, then taste and adjust flavors as necessary.
  7. Vinaigrette with chai spices:

    ½ ts orange oil or juice and zest from one small orange

    1 Tb. sugar

    ¼ c white wine vinegar

    ¼ ts sea salt

    1 ts. ground cardamom

    1 ts. ground cinnamon

    ½ ts. ground cloves

    ½ ts. ground white pepper

    1 Tb. red miso

    2/3 c olive oil

    2 Tb. water

    Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender jar. Blend while drizzling in olive oil. Add water if dressing seems too thick. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary.

  8. As an all-purpose flavor booster. When making hearty, rich dishes that traditionally contain veal or beef stock, a spoonful of hearty red miso adds an amino acid/umami flavor boost and depth of flavor. 
  9. With an acid. Miso + something tangy and acidic are natural mates–the zestiness of lemon juice (pictured above is some amazing black bean miso I made, waiting to be blended with another fermentation project–preserved lemons) or vinegar (brown rice is always nice) makes most any dish sing just a little louder.
  10. As part of a smooth, creamy sauce for steamed or roasted vegetables. For my meal delivery service, I used to serve a springy dish of steamed newborn turnips (hey, that blog post is so great–go read it!) (Hakurei turnips are a mild, sweet, creamy, juicy Japanese variety that several farmers near me–and maybe you?–grow) with an inch or so of their green tops attached with a simple miso sauce made from olive oil whisked together with white miso, rice vinegar, mirin (or sake or white wine), sugar or agave syrup, and some shoyu.
  11. As a glaze for sautéed vegetables. Combine vegetables that have been sautéed until just beginning to brown with a glaze made from white miso, rice vinegar, tahini, minced fresh ginger, shoyu, sesame oil, and sugar. Cook over medium heat until glaze is slightly thickened, then season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.
  12. Slather on vegetables, then broil. Miso-glazed broiled vegetables make a perfect weeknight dinner: Mix sweet white miso with some sake, shoyu, mirin, and sugar, then slather on thick slices of eggplant, summer squash, or portobello mushrooms and broil until bubbly. This also works well with tofu.
  13. In Japan, there is a tradition of dengaku cooking, which refers to foods that have been grilled, then coated with the above mixture and grilled again.
  14. Add a little as a secret ingredient in homemade red curry.
  15. Hearty pasta sauces benefit from a little white or red miso stirred in at the end of cooking–a tomato sauce enriched with red wine, plus a little miso, is pretty amazing.
  16. Of course: miso soup!

    miso soup!

    For a boost of flavor and nutrition, you can add a spoonful of miso to any soup. Or, try my quick favorite miso-enriched soup recipe: bring water to a boil, and add any sea veggies you happen to have on hand, (kombu is perfect) as well as any leftover chopped vegetables you need to use up. (If you want the rich flavor that sea vegetables contribute but not the texture or direct flavor, just strain them out after simmering for twenty minutes or so and before adding the vegetables). In a big bowl, add a little bit of this broth and mix with your favorite miso. Add cooked rice or noodles (or quinoa, cous cous, millet, Bhutanese red rice—the list is endless!), some chopped greens if you have them, then fill up the bowl with the broth. Garnish with slivered scallions, if available. Not flavorful enough? Add more miso. Add hot pepper sauce and shoyu to taste, and I often add some brown rice vinegar and a dash of toasted sesame oil as well.

  17. A spoonful of miso blended into thick bean soups adds great depth and richness.
  18. Miso gravy.  I made this recipe for years at Bloodroot, and it’s one of the most comforting sauces you will ever encounter. Caramelize lots of onions (plus sliced shiitake mushrooms, if you have them) in an obscene amount of olive oil. Add a lot of sliced garlic (sometimes I add some ancho chile powder, too) then whisk in a handful of flour, a bit of dried basil and thyme, and a cup or more of dark beer. Add a big scoop of red miso and a big scoop of nutritional yeast, some tomato paste and some shoyu. Add water and whisk until it’s smooth and saucy. Let this gravy bubble away for 20 minutes or so, then put it over mashed potatoes, stuffed vegetables…or just straight up in a shot glass.
  19. Whisk a little miso with olive oil and spices, brush on sliced kabocha squash or other wintery roots & roast.
  20. I use a few spoonfuls of white miso in my homemade tamale batter to boost flavor.
  21. In nut-based cream sauces. See info and recipes here.
  22. In pesto. Adding just a tiny spoonful of white miso in pesto can help emulsify the mixture, and also contributes a cheesy richness.
  23. Miso (any type) and stone-ground mustard makes a wonderful condiment—use it anywhere you use mustard.
  24. In a cream layer for lasagna and savory baked casseroles. I make a polenta torte that consists of layers of cooked polenta (which has been poured onto a sheet pan and chilled until firm), tomato sauce, sautéed mushrooms, and a filling made from a bit of white miso, garlic, tofu, cashews, nutritional yeast, shoyu, white wine vinegar, and basil.  Combine everything in a high-speed blender or food processor and mix until smooth. Taste and adjust flavors as necessary, then layer in a casserole dish and bake in a 375°F oven until bubbly.
  25. In the Classic Sichuan dish Ma-po Tofu. I’ll post my recipe soon!
  26. Make a quick Korean Barbecue Sauce with minced garlic and ginger, paprika, cayenne (optional), white miso, toasted sesame oil, and shoyu. Use on baked tofu or tempeh, or toss with sautéed vegetables like baby bok choy and summer squash, then garnish with sesame seeds and slivered scallions. I’ve been making this dish for years, but I believe the original idea came from a Millennium cookbook.
  27. Sweet white miso is lovely spooned into a bowl of hot oatmeal, grits, or cooked grains, along with maple syrup and fruit.
  28. White miso whisked with olive oil is great on fresh corn on the cob in summertime.
  29. Miso ice cream! I’ve done it! Just add a small teaspoon to your (vegan) ice cream mixture and mix well. This is especially good with strongly flavored ice creams where the bold flavor of miso contributes a nice salty hit but doesn’t overpower.
  30. I asked a few friends on Facebook for their miso tips, and the great Sandor Katz recommended savory oatmeal with miso & peanut butter. Sounds like a perfect winter breakfast. I’d sneak in some maple syrup, too.
  31. Miso pickles. Speaking of Sandor: there is a long tradition of pickling vegetables in miso in Japan. See Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation for a detailed recipe.
  32. A bit of red miso livens up homemade tomato sauce, especially thick, rich, long-cooking winter tomato sauces.
  33. Any marinade for tofu, tempeh, or vegetables is better with a bit of miso added.
  34. A really fine miso, like the ones made with farm-fresh vegetables from South River Miso, are wonderful spread directly on good crackers, and even better when mixed with a little tahini and spread on crackers.
  35. If you’re fond of the Australian condiments Marmite or Vegemite, think of miso as a Japanese version of them, and use it wherever you use these condiments (which I must admit I find terribly bizarre).
  36. Blend a bit of red miso into your favorite bean dip recipe.
  37. I love mashed potatoes with a tiny bit of barley miso added.
  38. A great sandwich spread is mashed avocado with a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, a bit of red miso, shoyu, and a whisper of garlic (usually I just rub it on the bread). This is a variation of a sandwich the great Bloodroot restaurant, where I worked for years, makes.
  39. Any sauce that needs a little thickening benefits from a bit of miso whisked in.
  40. The quickest vegetable stock in the world: boil water with vegetable trimmings and, ideally, some good seaweed like a big strip of dulse, and a little bit of red miso.
  41. Bonus! My sous chef Pippa reports that she once made a cocktail with miso. She says: “I tried it in a cocktail once, blended very well with simple syrup, cucumber vodka and fresh basil. It was awesome!”
  42. Bonus! Speaking of sweets, try adding a tiny bit of sweet white miso to caramel sauce, cookies, and other sweet treats. It’s pretty amazing.
Have fun!

All about miso: the soy [or not] food with culture.

We sell our homemade miso at the shop, so I thought I’d write a little about how I use miso and why I love this ingredient so much.

My love for miso is too large to be contained in just one post, so here is a pair of miso posts: today’s is a primer on what exactly miso is, and tomorrow I’ll post a truly huge list of amazing tips, techniques and recipes for your miso.

Miso is a power ingredient, and it’s my firm belief that no kitchen should be without a jar of white and a jar of red miso. First of all: what exactly is miso?

The red miso pictured above, before two years of fermentation made it red.

Good question. Miso is a fermented bean paste. It’s a salty, umami-rich ingredient that lends depth, richness, and body to any dish it touches. In fact, tamari (wheat-free quality fermented soy sauce) has traditionally been made from the liquid exuded from fermenting miso. Miso often works very well to replace soy sauce or sea salt, and though it is of Japanese origin, its flavor can compliment many kinds of dishes. The trick is in knowing what kind of miso to choose. Different types of miso can refer to either how fermented the miso is, or to what ingredients are in it.

The vast majority of misos in the world contain soybeans, but homemade miso can contain whatever beans and grains you like. For the past decade or so I have been making miso myself. It’s a deeply satisfying practice that I can’t recommend enough. I have made miso with many different beans, grains, and even vegetables. Making miso is a simple process, but the fermentation times can be long. The feeling of accomplishment in unpacking a crock of one-, two-, or three-year old miso is intense. For a great recipe for making your own miso, Sandor Katz’s Wild Fermentation is a wonderful reference.

If you’re not up for making your own miso from scratch, you can buy wonderful miso in every health food store. In the Northeast, my favorite brand of store-bought miso is South River. It is made in small batches with care, and many seasonal varieties are often available. Miso Master is another readily available quality brand.

There are two primary types of soybean miso available in the United States: red and white. White miso is fermented for only a few months, and is therefore much lighter in color and less salty. It is often called “sweet miso” and has such a tame, mellow flavor that it pairs well with all kinds of dishes. On the far other end of the spectrum, red miso is a bold, rich, tangy paste that has been fermented for several years. The only difference between red and white miso is the level of salt and the fermentation time—the fermentation process is what changes the color from white to red.

The miso pictured above, while fermenting.

Brown miso, which is a middle ground between white and red, is often available as well, as are misos made with rice, chickpeas, barley, and more. They are all delicious, and all contribute slightly different flavors to dishes. Experiment to see which you like the best.

When buying miso, make sure that it is refrigerated and labeled “unpasteurized,” or “live.” Cheaper shelf-stable misos have been heat-treated and are devoid of the beneficial bacteria that make real miso one of the healthiest foods you can eat.

Speaking of that beneficial bacteria, several of the techniques listed in tomorrow’s list of miso recipes will, indeed, kill it by heating it. This is not ideal from a health standpoint, but even miso that has been boiled or baked is a superbly healthy product. If you are buying miso that you know will be heated, you might want to save a few dollars and buy the shelf-stable brands, as long as they are organic or state that the soybeans are not genetically modified.

For more information on the health benefits of miso, the vintage classic The Book of Miso has all the info you need, and lots more.

Once you have your miso, it can be stored in your refrigerator almost indefinitely, slowly improving with age. But there are many reasons not to let it languish on a shelf in the refrigerator–coming tomorrow, 40 uses for miso! 

previousnesses: the best of the past.

Heya pals!

Here are a few links to recipes, food essays, rants, ideas, and inspiration from my old meal delivery site, as well as my personal blog. Enjoy!

Great essays, food talk, and pretty photos:

And a few recipes:

And finally, really pretty photos of cupcakes.

An interview with Sandor Katz, circa 2007: Sandor Ellix Katz and The Big Food Battleground

In 2007 I did an interview with the ever-amazing Sandor Katz, whose book Wild Fermentation inspired me to make my own pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, shoyu, tempeh, and much more. It was supposed to run in Clamor magazine, but it closed its doors just before the issue with the interview went to press. In celebration of the New Yorker article recently published about him, I thought I’d post it here. (Hey, Grist did the same thing!)

Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Food Movements more than exceeds its tagline as “an instant classic for a new generation of monkey-wrenching food activists.” Covering all areas of the under-the-radar food world, from urban guerilla farmers to radical seed savers and foragers of all stripes (mushroom hunters, weed-eaters, dumpster-divers) Katz – whose previous book, Wild Fermentation, is a strangely readable and fascinating guide to the pleasures of fermented and live-culture foods – makes the case that we can solve the problems of our corporatized and corrupted food system with creativity, community, and good taste.

(One note first: I loved the book, but I skipped the chapters about “food” that I don’t consider food—milk and meat. I don’t agree with Sandy’s views on these topics, but he’s such a wonderful sweetie-pie and I have so much to learn from him that I’m able to move beyond what we don’t see eye to eye on—and for a non-vegan, he’s extremely vegan friendly, always ready to tell a story about an amazing vegan yogurt he learned about at a Slow Food conference, or a fermented barley dish he heard about. He’s respectful, and thus so am I.)

I recently discussed the food sustainability movement with Sandor Katz.

Lagusta Yearwood: What is your sense of how “everyday people” – not people in the “foodie” world, not food activists, vegans, chefs, etc. – are thinking about food lately? As a society, are we beginning to have more of an understanding of food sustainability issues?

Sandor Katz: Many people in the mainstream are very concerned about food quality, from trans fats to artificial growth hormones to pesticides. That’s why we’re seeing all the policies banning junk food from schools, and that’s why Wal-Mart is expanding its offering of organic products. Neither of these examples really touches on sustainability, though. Centralized systems—whether government policies or corporate policies—won’t create sustainability. Centralized powers are invested in the model of commodity monoculture agriculture and globalized trade, which are antithetical to sustainability. Movements toward sustainability are happening everywhere—in forms such as community gardens, farmers’ markets, community-supported farms, and groups recycling discarded food resources—but they are still in the margins, not in the mainstream.

LY: Do you think that there are an increasing number of the movements that you describe, or are they slowly dying out?

SK: I think grassroots movements for food sustainability are definitely growing. The numbers of community-supported farms and of farmers’ markets are rising fast. So are the numbers of schools, universities, and other institutions committing themselves to procuring foods locally. The raw milk underground is the most widespread form of civil disobedience in the U.S. today. Many people are being politicized as a result of their desire to feed their families healthy food.

LY: There is a lot of talk about how Americans are becoming more and more polarized and there is less conversation between different segments of society. Your book documents slivers of society that are very much on the fringe working in these “underground food movements,” yet the people you write about have so much to teach the wider population. I wonder if you think they are somehow pushing above ground and influencing how mainstream Americans think about food? Are we having a revival of caring about what we put in our mouths, or is it just the isolated pockets that you discuss in your book?

SK: Although these movements involve only a small minority of people, and exist on the fringes of society, I don’t think they are isolated pockets at all. For instance, the raw milk underground is populated by many totally mainstream people. These are people who have been compelled to circumvent the law out of concern for their health, or more often, their children’s health. Community gardens in many cities are tended by average working people, often immigrants, trying to raise some food for themselves and retain a connection to the land. Food activists come from every demographic category and are not a single isolated subculture. At the same time, many of the activist food movements have a narrow focus. We need to broaden this focus and build solidarity among the diverse range of movements that can be described as food activists.

LY: Do you have any ideas on how to bring this dialogue to the wider population?

SK: We need to keep on reviving local food systems and making them accessible. Food activists need to keep doing the work they are doing creating alternatives, while also broadening their agendas and their appeal. Everyone cares about food, and everyone hates to be judged. We can’t broaden the movement by shaming people for their food choices. We have to entice people by demonstrating how much more delicious, and how much healthier, locally-produced foods are.

LY: It seems that many of the stories you tell share a theme: how we can wrest control of our lives back from corporations. Corporations control and mediate almost all aspects of our lives, especially food, and, as you point out, organic food is no exception. The stories of the anarchist farmers, seed savers, “fermentation fetishists,” raw foodists, scavengers, and foragers in the book are stories of triumphs of creativity, local thinking, and the “small is beautiful” principle over the ease of buying our food at Wal-Mart. Can you talk about some very simple ways we can begin to get corporations out of our food?

SK: The first thing we can do to get the corporations out of our food is to start buying food directly from farmers. In the U.S., out of every dollar spent on food farmers receive about 19 cents. We can support farmers and stop supporting big corporations by buying food directly from local producers. We can also break out of the confining, infantilizing role of consumer and become food producers. Food activism isn’t primarily about protesting or boycotting; it’s about reviving local production and creating better food choices.

LY: Related to that, how can we expand this pocket of food consciousness that you describe without commercializing it and having it be co-opted by large companies, like the word “organic” has been corrupted?

SK: In the realm of food, we have to embrace an ethic of direct exchange, where people have relationships with the farmers who grow their food and the process of its production. This notion of local food production and exchange challenges and subverts capitalism’s tendency to market concentration and economies of scale. In computers or cars, those forces may arguably lead to greater efficiency. In food it’s leading us to ever-diminishing nutritional quality and resulting in disease epidemics and community economic disintegration. Every community needs a direct connection to farming and food production. It is the only true creation of wealth, and no community is secure without some direct connection to it.

LY: I enjoyed your critique of the Slow Food movement because of its upper-crust aspect and focus on “highbrow consumerism,” yet I also share your viewpoint that they are doing wonderful things to promote biodiversity and stimulate interest in “endangered” foods. I like Slow Food because it focused on pleasure – the idea that one of the main reasons we need to eat what is local and fresh is because it just tastes better. What do you think of the idea of a food revolution through the pleasures of the table?

SK: I absolutely agree. Food is largely about pleasure and gratification. Changes in people’s food behaviors are primarily motivated by the pursuit of pleasure. As I said earlier, shaming people about their food choices is not an effective strategy for change. We need to entice people with appealing alternatives. When Gary Paul Nabhan organized a 12-day, 220-mile native foods walk in the Sonoran desert, he and the other participants discovered that they had dramatically more energy from eating native foods rather than standard processed supermarket fare. Behavioral change comes about from positive reinforcement. Fresh food, and real food, tastes better than the products that fill supermarket shelves, and it makes you feel better.

LY: What are your predictions for how we will be thinking about food in the next ten years?

SK: I think in the coming decade we will be seeing devastating rises in cancer rates and other disease epidemics related to the poor quality of our food. I hope that more and more people will make the connections between these crises and food quality, and start seeking out and demanding real food unadulterated by genetic modification, artificial hormones, and chemicals. This means rejecting monoculture food systems driven by corporate profits and embracing small-scale local agriculture. Human beings, like all animals, are inherently capable of feeding ourselves. We do not need to be dependent on this profit-driven globalized food machine. We can liberate ourselves and take back our food, and we will.