A Call To Arms! The Texas Baker’s Bill.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Family,Friends,Links,Promotion,Spotlight,Stress | Friday 11 February 2011 8:09 pm

Yeah, I know, I’m likely to catch hell from you guys for this… but it’s worth it if it helps at all.

I spammed y’all in 2009 about this, but it’s come full circle again in 2011 – the Texas Cottage Food Law.  Currently it’s illegal in Texas for the operation of a food-based business from a residential kitchen, even if it’s “non-potentially hazardous” foods that are at a low risk for spoilage, specifically bakery products and some other foods — jams, jellies, and salsas — that are considered low-risk for spoilage because they are not able to support the growth of potentially harmful organisms and do not require refrigeration.  This makes it prohibitively expensive and complex to start up a small bakery business. The passing of this bill would allow, with appropriate licensing, home-based bakery style businesses.

Most anyone reading this post knows a married couple in Texas that have been trying to quietly drum up business while flying below the radar for some time now.  They can’t really advertise, as that would call unwanted attention to them, so it’s all word of mouth.  They can’t approach places like coffee houses or other little retail establishments to get them to buy their goods, can’t get a stall at a farmer’s market, etc.  Which means that growth is negligible.  If the Cottage Food Law passes, They could (as early as September) get started making a lot of noise and picking up some business.

What does this mean to everyone?  Well, to get the bill passed, those of you living in Texas have to let legislators know that they want them to support it, and to do that folks need to call and/or write them.  There is a site out there with info on the bill, and what to do/how to help.

Texas Cottage Food Law (they’re on Facebook too).

Those good folks are even providing a letter template, the best way to conduct yourself on the call, along with how to find who your local legislators are.

Even if you don’t intend to actually call or write (and I heartily encourage you to do so!), maybe you could pass the information along – email, Facebook, Twitter (there is a hashtag group on twitter — #texasbakersbill — so follow/use that if you go that route), etc.  The more people who know about it, the greater the percentage of people who will call/write.  C’mon, this is the modern age, and social networking rules the land… there’s no reason this information can’t be spread far and wide in relatively no time at all.

The passing of this bill will allow individuals and small groups of home bakers to generate some revenue in this otherwise tepid economical landscape.  That revenue is subject to local sales tax (more money for the Texas state coffers!), income tax (moolah for the Feds!), and spending cash in the pockets of the bakers themselves to help stimulate the local economy.  It would help build small businesses that may one day flourish into larger enterprises, creating even more jobs and revenue along the way. It would allow individuals to ply a trade they truly enjoy, flexing their creative culinary skills, making for a happier person.

I can’t speak for the rest of Texas, but Austin is fiercely proud of it’s reputation for locally owned and operated businesses and the eclectic atmosphere that comes when the majority of the shops are run by individuals and not mega-corporations and chains.  Think of the vast variety of tastes and styles, ethnic and cultural confections that only ever get served up at the family table… then imagine those miraculously being available in farmer’s markets and little stalls and shops around town, all across the State.

It was once stated (quite sadly by a member of the committee with her hands on the bill in 2009 — her name rhymes with “Lois W. Kolkhorst“) that home baking businesses were “the worst kept secret” in Texas, and it was asked why there was need for a law to make it legal?  Go ahead and read this post from the beginning again, I think I’ve covered that quite nicely already.  Seriously, who would oppose passing a law to let people come out of hiding, become legitimate, start paying taxes and earning income above board?  These legislators have other agendas… they simply must.

The bill has been filed with the Texas House of Representatives — HB1139here’s the text of it.  The next step is for it to get assigned to a committee, then read before that committee (which, by the way, is open to the public… so why not show up in support of it?).  Then it goes up for a vote, and if that works out well it gets passed to the Texas Senate to be voted on.

So, Texans (and family of Texans who can poke their kin with a sharp stick for us), we need to be BIG and LOUD about this.  This needs to be more than just a fart in a hurricane.  Put it on the radar of your legislators.  Make yourself heard, dammit!

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Don’t Label Me.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Friends,Homebrew,Links,Pictures,Promotion | Tuesday 6 April 2010 10:00 am

As I stated before, I’m homebrewing beer (and mead… and eventually hard cider, hard lemonade, and perry).  Never being one to do anything halfway (or easy, for that matter — not when I can overdo it!), I went beyond the simple brewing process, containing the precious liquid in recycled clean beer bottles.

I have have five distinct styles of beer bottles, each style to define a single batch of beer in matching vessels.  I have not just cleaned each bottle, but eradicated any and all trace of the original labels and packaging.  I stow them in matching boxes, some with custom-cut dividers to keep the bottles from rattling together.  I keep spares of each bottle style in case I break some, or more likely, never get them back after generously sending beer home with friends.  And, I’m making custom labels for each style of beer.

The name of my brewery is “Ol’ Shambler Brewery”, and all the beers are zombie themed (or in a pinch, generally ‘horror’ themed).  I have purchased labels specifically suited to the task of labeling beer bottles, complete with a die-cut neck label.  I then proceeded to enlist my obnoxiously talented friends to help me create not just a simple beer label, but custom works of art.

Martin Whitmore, whom I’ve pimped here many times, designed and illustrated the labels themselves.  Provided with the oddball name of the brew and a few nudges in the direction I wanted to go, he then proceeded to craft the perfect — and I do mean perfect — concept and illustration.  Marty already knows from zombies as they’re his specialty, but he went beyond simply drawing a zombie and brought life (ha!), character and the perfect amount of humor into the design.

Kim Gall — an award-winning pet portraitist — is a dynamite watercolor artist with just as wicked a sense of humor and style as Marty and I.  She brought the perfect atmosphere and tone to Marty’s illustrations, a nice sense of earthy gloom, and a whole new level of depth and spark.

The frames of the neck and main label were drawn separately from the internal artwork so that we could easily and simply draw a new figure for the center of each and add them in later, along with the text.  I was in charge of stitching all the elements together and working in the text.

As promised, here is the artwork for my first two styles of homebrew.

Ol' Shambler Brewery - Belgian Devil

The Belgian Devil is a Belgian golden ale, reminiscent of Duvel (which is Flemish for “devil”).  The idea was to have a guy in a devil Halloween  costume — something akin to a red hoodie with horns — but I had absolutely no way how to make him discernibly “Belgian”.  Marty pulled that big mustache from I-don’t-know-where, but by Jeebus, it sold the Belgian look.  It caught me off guard, and I choked from laughing.  Shambler, who has become the unofficial figurehead for Ol’ Shambler Brewery, is nobly gazing out from the center of the neck label through his milky, bloodshot eyes.

Ol' Shambler Brewery - Bayou Headsucker

The Bayou Headsucker is a kolsch — a German pale ale  — and has recently been dubbed a “lawnmower” beer, an unofficial name to describe beers that are light and refreshing, yet full bodied, without much hop bitterness, that are great for easy drinking on hot days (i.e. when you’re out mowing the lawn).  It was brewed very specifically to accompany this season’s crawfish boils, and is the perfect accompaniment to hot, spicy seafood.

Again, I didn’t have much of a concept for this label other than it really needed a coonass Cajun on there, and a swampy background.  The zombified crawfish sucking on the ol’ boy’s head so hard that his face inverted is sheer genius.  I also believe that the cypress trees hinted at in the background are an inspired touch, and I can’t imagine the piece would be complete without them.

And here are some “action shots” of the labeled bottles in the wild.

Ol' Shambler Brewery - Belgian DevilOl' Shambler Brewery - Belgian Devil

Ol' Shambler Brewery - Bayou HeadsuckerOl' Shambler Brewery - Bayou Headsucker

I look forward to more collaborative labels with these two.  Who knows, we may have some other guest artists chip in on future labels.  It’s a hell of a lot of fun.

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Whassahappanin’, Hotstuff?

Posted by DmentD | Cakes,Coolness,Friends,Homebrew,Links,Promotion,Rambling,Site,Stress | Tuesday 30 March 2010 11:07 am

Much goings on… er, going on in the last few months.  Once more, and to no surprise to anyone, I have sadly not reported any of it here.

Let’s see.  First and foremost, Sweets got laid off from the bakery she was at — who took her on as an extern when she was in culinary school, then hired her to do cakes, couldn’t give her a lot of hours, then realized that they were perfectly happy using the free extern labor from the school instead, and let her go.  Tears and curses aside, it was a fantastic learning experience for her and gave us the motivation to…

… start taking the first steps to get Curious Confections off the ground.  The first serious steps.  We spruced up the site — making it more making it professional in appearance — added a menu, and lightened up some of the ambiguous language about actually making product for sale.

Sweets is going to make Curious Confections a part-time job for the interim, while maintaining a second part-time job at an established business.  I will be moonlighting after work hours and on weekends as a CC employee.  We’ve started getting a few orders in — some of them steady — and friends and co-workers have rallied to the cause by ordering stuff from us, and pressing our business cards into the palms of everyone they know.  The goal is to eventually get enough business to pay Sweets a salary, making CC her full-time job.

We need all the help we can get to make this first step successful, allowing us to grow and evolve to the next level, and then the level after that, ad infinitum.  We’re trying to maintain a fine balance between slow, steady growth so we don’t overextend our current reach, and reaching just far enough outside of our current comfort level to force us to evolve.  Just as too much water, sun and fertilizer can kill even a healthy plant — we don’t want to die on the vine from too much of a good thing burning us out too early.

Sweets is also taking the role of food blogger more seriously.  There are a few reasons behind this: foremost, she really enjoys writing about the stuff we make (out of pride and great satisfaction), it’ll help direct more traffic and attention to Curious Confections, it’ll bring her and CC to the attention of other food bloggers (many of them local), and she can be a part of a community of like-minded people (which is always a good thing).  A fresh audience and new friends can work wonders on so many levels.

All cake, baked goods, and Curious Confections related projects will henceforth be posed over there, and links to said posts will be posted here.  I may even pop in and write about the things I have my snobbery badges in: coffee, beer, homebrew, and South Louisiana food.

On the topic of homebrew, we have two batches of beer in bottles ready for consumption by this weekend: the Belgian Devil (a Duvel-like Belgian golden ale), and the Bayou Headsucker (a crisp, clean, refreshing kolsch ale).  The Headsucker was specifically brewed for the crawfish season this year, and our first boil is this Saturday.

You may have noticed the unusual beer names.  Good for you.  We’ve decided to cater to my infantile obsession with zombies and theme all the beers that way.  Our “brewery” is named Ol’ Shambler Brewery.  While making labels for beer that will eventually be drunk, then have the labels stripped right back off again may seem a bit needless, we wanted to have fun with this hobby from start to finish.  To that end we have enlisted (entrapped!) two of our talented friends, Marty and Kim, to help design and color said labels… and they’ve done a hell of a job so far.  I’ll post the artwork separately, another time – gotta’ save some stuff for other posts!

We’ve also started fermenting our first mead — a traditional, sweet-semi-dry variety — using raw, unpasteurized orange blossom honey from a local apiary.  It’s coming along nicely, but won’t be ready to drink for till about this time next year.  Sadly meads, hard ciders, perrys, and wines of all stripe are not “young” beverages, and require an extended conditioning period ranging from a few months, to well over a year depending on the style.  Our patience should be rewarded, and is all the more motivation to have a number of batches going at once.

The downside to home brewing is equipment and supply storage.  It takes up some space, man, and it’s a struggle to store everything so that it 1) isn’t underfoot, and B) isn’t unsightly.  I don’t want to just plonk it all down in a spare bedroom and shut the door, but I don’t want it to sit in the garage or attic gathering dust and who-knows-what-else.  I also want to have access to everything as I need it without having to go dig it out of a storage area.  We have plans to, eventually, build cabinetry into the bar — when we build the bar — to store homebrew gear and fermenting batches out of sight, but accessible.

That, my little ones, is all I have to ramble about at this time.  Be good to each other, even if it means being naughty.  Especially if it means being naughty.

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Belated Birthday.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,Friends,Reflection | Monday 23 November 2009 11:11 am

Birthdays are birthdays… they are the most convenient way to mark the passage of time in one’s life, and frankly their only real significance is to alert your doctor to the opportunity to commence inflicting more thorough and uncomfortably invasive exams upon your person.

My 40th birthday has come and gone, and the inevitable question was asked numerous times: “So, how does it feel to be 40?” About the same as it did when I woke up yesterday when I was still 39 — I could use more sleep, less work, a strong cup of coffee, and a couple of undisturbed hours in a hammock or a comfortable chair reading without distraction… but then again, I’ve felt that way most of my life anyway, so this is nothing new.

At any rate, to me birthdays are birthdays, just another day with a bit of personal significance but no need for anyone to make a fuss over.  I don’t demand a big party, lots of gifts or overt amounts of attention… which does not mean I won’t happily — gleefully even — accept any of that, hell, who doesn’t like gifts and a fun party?  The most I would ever ask for myself is a decent meal and the company of good friends in a low-key, comfortable environment, which is pretty much the same thing I’d ask of any given weekend anyway.

We went to Peony, a nice Asian restaurant that serves Japanese and Chinese cuisines, and I loaded up on sushi.  I hadn’t had sushi in a long while, and had been in the mood for it for quite some time.  T’was yummy, and priced well too.  Apparently some of the selections from the Chinese menu were tasty as well.

Afterward we went back to Sweets and my place to light the fire-pit, have some drinks and enjoy a cigar.  I finally opened the bottle of Scotch I was gifted for the housewarming over a year ago, and it was definitely worth the wait.

All told, it was precisely the evening I had hoped for.

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This Was Halloween… Halloween, Halloween!

Posted by DmentD | Cakes,Domestica,Friends,House,Links,Party,Pictures | Monday 9 November 2009 4:02 pm

Halloween 2009 has arrived, then expired. The decorations are once more banished to the attic, and the house has been cleaned — again! — from top to bottom… and oh, what a relief to have the house back in order again!

This year marked the return of the annual Halloween party to my home — the first time since the move to Austin — and I’m thrilled to have been able to host it again. Sweets finds it amusing that we have more containers of Halloween decorations in the attic than we do all the other holidays combined. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that, maybe, only a quarter of those containers has stuff that can be put out for generally decorating for the Halloween season.  All the rest is geared toward hosting a kick-ass party. And we added to it this year.

Every space is different, and the house in Austin is no exception. Different lighting needs, different party layout, different decorating styles. We made an investment in some new lighting options for the yard and house, and making the foray into colored CFL bulbs that will last us for years to come (in addition to just having better color output that tinted incandescent bulbs). CFL bulbs also come in true UV blacklight format too, so we can now “light” smaller spaces with individual bulbs rather than big fixtures. I also had need to start replenishing my inventory of heavy-duty extension cords, as they all went glub-glub in NOLA. I believe we created some interesting lighting atmospheres in and around the house.

We resurrected some old party traditions: the bar was a “blacklight” room, and I built a themed entryway for the guests to come through, as well as having heir pictures taken in front of (having your picture taken when you first arrive is your “price of admission”, and also guarantees that we have at least one picture of everyone that is taken while they are “fresh” and in costume).

We laid out a good spread of food, and Sweets went all out on sweet treats and the cake, which was fashioned after the skulls of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). It was a delicious butter cake with black raspberry filling.

We had a houseful of costumed revelers, with very few uncostumed (shame-filled) miscreants — whom we love very much, but obviously are numskulls for not bothering to put any effort out, even though they were invited to a party being held for the express purpose of being a goofball in a costume, and their gracious hosts went though a hell of a lot of effort to decorate the house, and to feed and water them lavishly. And no, carrying a plastic bat does not constitute a costume, you slacker (yesI’mlookingatyouGonzoyoubastard *grins*).

Ahem.

What else can be said… it was a party, and parties are what they are. Food, drink, good company, fun.

To see the rest of the pictures, I direct you over the the Halloween 2009 gallery. If you like, you can read Sweets’ telling of the Halloween tale.

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Against The Dead.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Entertainment,Friends,Links,Promotion,Spotlight | Wednesday 14 October 2009 11:49 am

Martin Whitmore — my obnoxiously talented friend and illustrator — has been developing a d20 zombie apocalypse game for about a year now.  The official title is “Against the Dead”.  I know, I’m excited too. *glee*

Against the Dead - Cover Preview

He’s already amassed 70+ original illustrations for the book, and is looking to “flesh it out” with some more zombie-massacre (and flesh-eating) action shots.  In order to generate some capital to offset the costs of putting the book together, he’s offering — for a  nominal fee — to put a custom illustration of YOU in the book… as either a survivor or one of the unholy walking dead:

In both cases you can make requests as to the details of the drawing, which I will fill to the best of my ability with respect to what we still need in the book. Feel free to suggest weapons, equipment — whatever would make you happy. If I can make it suit the book, I will. Depending on how many people are interested, I may put multiple subjects into a single illustration – we do need some action shots of survivors killing zombies, and vice-versa!

$20 to be a zombie, $30 to be a survivor.  Your donation gets you into the pages of Against the Dead, as well as a signed print of your illustration.

Go HERE for more details, and to get your ugly mug into the book.

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Eeenvites.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,Friends,Party,Pictures | Friday 9 October 2009 8:00 am

We are hosting Halloween this year.  It’s the first Halloween part I’ve thrown since 2004.  I’m very excited.

Sweets and I wanted the invitations to be very special, so we set out to design our own — simple, stylish and attention getting.  A black outer card with an orange inner card, the invitation printed in Gothic script and a jack-o-lantern face hand cut from the facing page.  The invitation was sheathed in a black envelope and sealed with burgundy wax using a Celtic knot-work imprinted stamp.  The invite was then tethered by rough twine fashioned into a noose to a miniature pumpkin inscribed with “A Summoning…”


We also wanted to  arrange a special delivery for our friends in town, so we took one evening after work and drove from house to house.  Sweets would sneak up and deposit the envelope with the pumpkin resting atop it on the doorstep, then we zoomed off.  Once clear of the delivery zone we texted: “You may want to check your doorstep, we saw some shady characters about, just a minute ago!” Only two of our marks were baffled enough to respond with confusion… admittedly, they weren’t home a the time.

The best part, we managed to have 100% success making the deliveries undetected — with he exception of the one person who we didn’t trust leaving the invite on her apartment doorstep, so we hand delivered that one to her at work.

A fine start to the Halloween season, I’d say.

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Loaves And Dishes.

Posted by DmentD | Cooking,Domestica,Friends | Monday 28 September 2009 11:56 am

Sweets and I take a certain amount of pride in keeping our freezer stocked with homemade, pre-made meals that take the place of the old “heat and eat” style of junk we used to get from the grocery (Healthy Choice, Amy’s Organics, etc).  Typically during the week we’ll cook dinner with the intention of having enough left over for lunch the next day, but sometimes that doesn’t work out and I end up having to figure out another plan.  Time was, I used to keep a stock of the ready-made meals from the store, and just grab one of those… but not long after Sweets moved to our shores, we started weaning ourselves off of those and just occasionally making a large batch of something that we can divvy up into meal-sized portions and freeze.

Common favorites of ours are lasagna, chicken pot-pie, pasta and homemade bolognese, soup, slow-cooker chicken with gravy and veggies, the occasional fricken chickasee… and beans and rice.  Red beans and black eyed peas are our staple (and let’s face it, I’m a Southern boy, so that’s what I grew up with).  Our freezer was getting a little low, so we decided to pull out the big pot, and re-stock.

We cooked 2 lbs of black-eyed peas in the tradition that I was raised with… with more meat by weight than beans — a combined mixture of tasso, sausage and ham.  Now, 2 lbs is a hell of a lot of peas, so we had a few folks over to have a relaxed, casual visit and help us eliminate a little so we wouldn’t overflow our freezer later on.  All told we fed five people and divvied up two lunches for me this week, and we put into the freezer nine individual portions with rice, a portion for two with no rice and a portion for four with no rice.  That’s a hell of a good job, and considering the total cost of ingredients was around $20, I’d say it was a fantastic deal.

Oh, and breaking slightly with the bean/peas tradition, I added about a pound of sliced mushrooms to the mix near the end of the cooking.  It was a nice change-up, and added a slight earthy flavor to the dish.  Plus, Sweets and I just really enjoy mushrooms, so we put them in everything.

In addition the the black eyed peas, Sweets was on a mission to fix a dish from her side of the Atlantic, steak and kidney pie (and I have since decided that for the most part, English cooking is the same as Southern cooking… it may not always be the best for you, and you may not be able to — or want to — identify everything in it, but by Jeebus it tastes good).  Since kidney isn’t a popular organ for the average (Anglo, Caucasian) grocery shopper, she settled on steak and ale pie.  Beef cubes with onions were slow cooked for hours in a rich dark base that contained a dark mexical ale and beef stock, and was allowed to reduce down and condense it’s flavors.  Mushrooms were added near then end.  It was thickened a bit, then poured into a glass dish and covered with a crust and baked slow and low.  It was rich and powerful, the ale giving the dish a deep base note, and the beef was tender and delicious.  Definitely a winner, and it’s added to the list of things to make large batches of to divvy and freeze.

Sweets also baked two loaves of bread, experimenting with a new sourdough recipe she found.  The recipe was a bit of a flop, and the bread didn’t rise very well or have any tangyness at all (both problems owing to calling for not near enough sourdough starter).  It was dense, but straight out of the oven it was actually tasty with a bit of butter spread on it.  Not a complete failure, but the recipe didn’t give her any reason to keep it in her arsenal.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, all things considered.

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Snakes On A Dog.

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Friends,Pictures,Stress | Thursday 3 September 2009 12:13 pm

Two of my dog family here in Austin — Niece Cleo and Nephew Puck — were both bitten by a baby rattlesnake last night.  On the face.  How humiliating… that little reptile punk didn’t even have the stones to wage a fair fight, so he had to resort to sucker punching them.

They’ve undergone treatments of anti-venom and after a scary-as-hell night, seem to be recovering.  I’m hoping for the absolute best.  For the moment though, I offer this as a response to the whole situation:

Snakes On A Dog

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Ancient History.

Posted by DmentD | Entertainment,Friends,Pictures,Rambling,Reflection | Wednesday 2 September 2009 11:59 am

Well, hell… I thought all evidence of me in the prehistoric “PB” era (Pre Beard) had been eradicated by my minions and the cleansing effects of Katrina.

Guess not.

So, before these pictures are used against me as some unsavory method of blackmail, I’ve decided to post them for the public record — because nobody is better at making a fool out of you than yourself.

My long-time friend Hitch dug these up (thanks a lot, man… like I needed a reminder of my larval stage of existence, and how old I’m getting these days) and posted them to Facebook, but since I vehemently refuse to drink that particular flavor of Kool-Aid, he emailed them to me so that I could swoon lightheadedly and have a good laugh.

The first three pictures seem to be from a costume-like event… let’s call it Halloween, because my crusty memory refuses to call up the actual facts.  In this first picture, you see a young, clean-shaven me on the left… apparently laughing forward through the years at the decrepit me looking at this picture now, as if to to say “holy crap, look at all that gray hair, you furry freak!”  To my right is MiltiMix, with his long-lost full head of hair.  We’re both considerably thinner than we are now… in fact, EVERYONE is thinner in these pictures than they are now.

Ah, here we get a better picture of the outfit… my ever-present (at the time) round flip-up sunglasses and pea coat — I was a frequent Army Surplus customer in those years — no less than three mock weapons, and a pair of handcuffs.  Jeebus, I’ve never been that skinny since.  That’s Hitch in the red robes and hockey mask.  He was one of the very few people who helped keep my very violent temper in check in those days… as tall as I was, he had me by almost half-a-head and 50+ pounds, and it took a big guy like that to keep me from being an idiot.  Mostly.

Gah!  Who let that ugly broad in here?!  Wait… that’s no broad, that’s Michigan’s favorite son, James the I/O Master.  Not much of an improvement, mind you.

The cheesy mustache era!  May it go back to the grave, never to terrorize the good people of Earth ever again.  That’s Hitch on the left (sans mask and robes), Susan on the right, and me second from the right (sorry dude, second from the left, but my brain ejected your name and replaced it with Cowboy Mouth lyrics about 10 years ago).

And one last throwback to the CM era. *hangs head in shame* I  think I overcompensate now by only shaving every other week or so.

To you, my unsuspecting readers, there is only one response to these pictures…

… and one last sentiment to impart from an old fart like me …

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