Framed, You Hear!

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,Links,Making,Pictures,Reflection | Thursday 13 September 2012 12:42 am

Since I’ve been regathering woodworking tools lost to Katrina, I’ve been able to get a start on what is likely to be a very ongoing project… picture frames. Sweets and I have been slowly gathering prints and posters and artwork over the last few years (with no apparent end in sight), and for the smaller ones that fall into a standard size frame that can be bought “off the shelf”, we’re doing just that. Anything larger, or oddly sized — and the majority of what we have falls into this category — requires a custom frame.

The few pieces I’ve had framed in the past, while being done well, are fairly expensive… especially considering our tastes and preferences. At this rate, we’d likely only get one or two pieces done a year and we’d never catch up. Even the cost of just getting a mat cut is stupidly out of proportion considering a typical full-size sheet of acid-free mat board costs ~$15 for a 32″x40″ sheet and it takes all of 15 minutes to cut it. Add to this the fact that you’re limited to the frame styles the shop has in stock — to be fair, while not a minuscule selection they do tend toward a variation on a small number of themes. Additionally, if I wanted something more stylized or thematic I’m pretty much out of luck. The materials the frames are made of is rarely ever solid wood (composite materials mostly), and far too many of them are hideously garish.

So, I decided to do my own framing… quite in the tradition of my grandfather who framed all of his own artwork. I have a full-size mat cutter, I have the tools at my disposal to cut, fit and assemble frames, I have the skills and know-how, and I can do it all for a fraction of the cost that a frame shop would charge me. This also affords me the opportunity to do many more pieces in a shorter span of time and not break my budget. I can also get faaaaancy.

Two recent pieces that I finished were prints by Terrance Osborne: Post Katrina Blues, and Hurricane Solution #3. Both purchased over two years during my annual pilgrimages back to the motherland. I wanted to do something special for these, but hadn’t any specific ideas.

While foraging around the local architectural salvage companies for materials for another framing project (that’s another post) I came across an old wooden white painted window screen. I mean old, and poorly repainted over the years — never scraped, so the scaly ‘gator skinned peeling paint from previous generations created a prominent texture, and of an old hand-made style not seen any more. I was instantly transported back to NOLA, and the ancient white houses with the hunter green trim that is still found in older neighborhoods today (I lived in one myself), painted and repainted over the years. This screen was worn, weather-beaten and a perfect representation of a home — both physical and spiritual — lost to tragedy. It was mine for all of $4.

I disassembled that screen, carefully so as to not dislodge too much of the flaking paint, and lovingly cut and assembled it into a frame. I lightly dusted the worst of the dirt from it and sealed the rest in with satin Polycrylic. I paired the frame with a hunter green mat, the entire assembly representative of the loss depicted in Post Katrina Blues. The funky weathered appearance may not be for everyone, but it strikes me profoundly. You can even see a white house with green trim to the right in the print.

The next frame is another find from my architectural salvage hunts. It’s pieces of chair-rail moulding, reclaimed from an old house that was obviously decked out in quite a bit of fancy millwork when it was built (the pieces I used came from a huge bundle apparently from the same salvage project). The moulding was painted with a high-gloss white oil paint originally — those old oil paints just had a way of sitting on wood that is unmistakable — but the paint had lost some of it’s luster and has faded to a slightly ivory off-white color over the years. At $1 per linear foot, I had more than I needed for a measly $25.

The trim was in fairly good shape (compared to the screen from the last frame) with just a few chips and scrapes in the finish to show its age. It reminded me of the loving restoration that is done in the very old houses in NOLA, where the original millwork, filigrees and fancy flourishes are painstakingly preserved, showing the wear of the years but still holding up — mostly — the the test of time. It spoke to me of hope, history, and carrying on even in the wake of destruction. That fancy, scrolly moulding was cut and assembled into a frame, and left as-is with no additional finish… warts and all. Paired with a goldenrod colored mat, it evokes the stubbornness, ingenuity and spirit of preservation in Hurricane Solution #3.

My intention hasn’t been to salvage materials for all of my frames, that style just happened to fit the prints I was working on. Going forward… who knows what I’ll be using, but I have the freedom and flexibility to do what I like. Just you try to get a frame shop to make one from an old window screen. *grins*

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A Few Updates.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,House,Links,Pictures,Rambling | Friday 2 September 2011 12:07 am

A few things worthy of note to report ’round these parts:

The Bakers Bill, not quite in it’s original form, was passed thanks to an 11th hour Hail Mary from some dedicated folks in the Texas Legislature.  After it died in the House, they snuck that bugger in as an amendment to a Senate bill, which was then approved by both the House and the Senate.

There were some serious shenanigans, though, on the part of the Harris County Department of Health who said that they would have their friends in the Senate beat the bill down like a dog that crapped on the carpet if the Cottage Foods portion of the bill didn’t omit four little words: “and at farmer’s markets”.  Those four little words, while not completely diminishing the effectiveness of the bill, did put a serious damper on where Cottage Food can be sold… namely only from the home of the maker.  Having said all that, the bill did pass, and it’s a huge foot in the door.  The same folks who fought so hard to get this bill passed, are going to use that foot in the door to kick it open a little wider in two years.  They are going to expand the language of the law, and whittle away at the limitations.  Expect me to start making noise about it when the time comes.

So, now having the legal right to operate above board and in the open, Curious Confections is now Curious Confections LLC, complete with an EIN number, and soon to be tax ID.  We can open a commercial bank account and accept payment made to the company name.  We’ll be able to buy materials wholesale — that’s just dangerous right there.  *grins* We can advertise online, list prices, and get our name out there without fear.

Beyond the bill and Curious Confections (LLC), we’ve been having a ball with the pup.  Esme’s growing up to be a very sweet, if not energetic, bundle of fuzz.  She’s edged a little over 40 pounds, and at 8 months old, she’s likely not far from her final size.  She’s lean and long legged, and runs like a bat out of hell when she gets a wild hair up her ass… them promptly passes out on the kitchen floor under the fan for 5 minutes to recharge her batteries.  If we sit still long enough, she flops onto our feet and catches some Z’s (she’s using my feet as a pillow as I write this)  — this dog loves her some contact with her people.  Since I’m a horrible dog papa, I don’t take nearly as many pictures as Sweets does, so I’ll direct you to her gallery of pics of the pup for some cockle warming adorableness.  I will, however, just leave this lying here:

Cute as can be.

In other news, after 6 years I’m starting to feel like I’m getting some of my creative spark back.  I’m not to pre-storm levels, but my drive to get off my ass and make shit is definitely in gear.  I’ve replaced a bunch of the power tools I lost in the storm, and I’m currently making six bookshelves for the living room.  Of course, I don’t want to put them in until I paint the living room.  Of course, I don’t want to paint the walls until I scrape all the obnoxious popcorn texture off the ceiling, patch a few cracks, re-texture with something pleasant, and paint that.  Of course, once all that’s done, I’d love to replace all the painted baseboard and door molding with new, natural wood molding… oh, and add crown molding while I’m at it.  Yeah, “Sir Stuff” is definitely making a comeback, and he’s not fucking around, is he?

More than just woodworking is on my plate.  I’m dabbling in watercolors again, making art for my mead and wine labels, and I’m working on some charcoal rubbings as well.  I’m also starting to make mats and frames for the mountain of prints/posters/art I’ve collected these last six years (ok, that’s some woodworking too).

I’m not the only one with a creative drive in this household, either.  Sweets has been a crafting whirlwind, trying things she’s not had a chance to, or hasn’t done in a long time.  I’m also teaching her how to do some basic woodworking as well, and getting her familiar and comfortable with the tools.  I expect to find her out there building shit on her own before long, and that’s just dandy.

Aaaand, I’m done.  Save some stuff for other posts, or it’ll be months before I post again.

Y’all stay sane.

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The Texas Baker’s Bill… Last Gasp!

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Family,Links,Promotion,Spotlight,Stress | Wednesday 25 May 2011 4:34 pm

After fearing the Cottage Food Bill was dead in the House, turns out it’s still gasping for air!  It has actually passed the House, and is in the Senate as bill # SB 81, and has apparently gone round and round a few times already for amendments.  The unfortunate part is that we have less than a week for the Senate to pass it, or the legislative session will end and it’ll really be dead, not to be brought up again for another 2 years.

So, as before, I’m practically begging everyone to call and/or email your Senator and ask that they support SB 81 — specifically supporting it “as is” with the current crop of amendments, as there is little to no time to make any more.  The passing of this bill is the best chance for Sweets to get a legal baking business off the ground without having to scrape up  thousands of dollars in additional fees.  If you would like to help, I ask that you do so very, very soon.

Find out who your Senator is HERE.  More info on the progress of the bill is HERE.

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Café à la Créole.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Links | Monday 2 May 2011 3:45 pm

Having followed one link to another, then another (as one so often does while surfing — this time while reading up on the first episode of Treme season 2),  I stumbled upon The Picayune’s Creole Cook Book.  Published in 1901, by the local New Orleans newspaper The Picayune — which would eventually become the Times Picayune — it is a moment in time captured in amber, one that some might even consider quaint, and makes me a little homesick just reading it.  The book was reprinted a multitude of times from 1901 to 1922, then picked up by a different publisher then put into print again in 1971, and again in 2002, as an “unabridged republication”, which basically means it’s a step up from a photocopy of the original 1901 book.  I think I need to have a copy in my library (even though it is available online for free as the copyright has long since expired and it has become part of the public domain).

The book opens with a manifesto on coffee, specifically Café à la Créole (um… Creole Coffee), and won my little obsessive-compulsive, devil in the details, coffee-loving heart in an instant.   Here is the first chapter in all its coffee-worshiping glory, reformatted for ease of reading.

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CHAPTER 1

CREOLE COFFEE

Café à la Créole

A good cup of Creole Coffee!

Is there anything in the whole range of food substances to be compared with it?  And is there any city in the world where coffee is so delightfully concocted as in New Orleans?  Travelers the world over unite in praise of Creole Coffee, or “Café à la Créole,” as they are fond of putting it.  The Creole cuisiniéres succeeded far beyond even the famous chefs of France in discovering the secret of good coffee-making, and they have never yielded the palm of victory.  There is no place in the world in which the use of coffee is more general than in the old Creole city of New Orleans, where, from the famous French Market, with its world-renowned coffee stands, to the olden homes on the Bayou St. John, from Lake Pontchatrain to the verge of Southport.  The cup of “Café Noir,” or “Café au Lait,” at morning, at noon and at night, has become a necessary and delightful part of the life of the people, and the wonder and the joy of visitors.

The morning cup of Café Noir is an integral part of the life of a Creole household.  The Creoles hold as a physiological fact that this custom contributes to longevity, and point, day after day, to examples of old men and women of fourscore, and over, who attest to the powerful aid they have received through life from a good, fragrant cup of coffee in the early morning.  The ancient residents hold, too, that, after a hearty meal, a cup of “Café Noir,” or black coffee, will relieve the sense of oppression so apt to he experienced, and enables the stomach to perform its functions with greater facility.  Café Noir is known, too, as one of the best preventives of infectious diseases, and the ancient Creole physicians never used any other deodorizer than passing a chafing dish with burning grains of coffee through the room.  As an antidote for poison, the uses of coffee are too well known to be dilated upon.

Coffee is also the greatest brain food and stimulant known.  Men of science, poets and scholars and journalists, have testified to its beneficial effects.  Coffee supported the old age of Voltaire, and enabled Fountenelle to reach his one hundredth birthday.  Charles Gayarre, the illustrious Louisiana historian, at the advanced age of eighty, paid tribute to the Créole cup of “Café Noir.”  Among advanced scientists it is rapidly taking the place of digitalis in the treatment of certain cardiac affections, and the basis of black coffee, “caffeine,” enters largely into medicinal compositions.  Coffee is now classed by physicians as an auxiliary food substance, as retarding the waste of nerve tissue and acting with peculiarly strengthening effect upon the nervous and vascular system.

How important, then, is the art of making good coffee, entering, as it does, so largely into the daily life of the American people. There is no reason why the secret should be confined to any section or city; but, with a little care and attention, every household in the land may enjoy its morning or after-dinner cup of coffee with as much real pleasure as the Creoles of New Orleans and the thousands of visitors who yearly migrate to this old Franco-Spanish city.

It is, therefore, with pardonable pride that the Picayune begins this Creole Cook Book by introducing its readers into a typical Creole kitchen, where “Tante Zoé,” in the early morning hour, in her quaint, guinea-blue dress and bandana “tignon,“ is carefully concocting the morning cup of…

CAFÉ NOIR.

And first she will tell you, this old Créole Négresse, as she busies herself parching to a beautiful brown the morning portion of green coffee, that the secret of good coffee lies in harvesting…

The Best Ingredients and in the Proper making.

By the best ingredients, she means those delightful coffees grown on well watered mountain slopes, such as the famous Java and Mocha coffees.  It must be of the best quality, the Mocha and Java mixed producing a concoction of a most delightful aroma and stimulating effect.  She will tell you, too, that one of the first essentials is to “Parch the Coffee Grains Just Before Making the Coffee,” because coffee that has been long parched and left standing loses its flavor and strength.  The coffee grains should “Be Roasted to a Rich Brown,” and never allowed to scorch or burn, otherwise the flavor of the coffee is at once affected or destroyed.  Good coffee should never he boiled.  Bear this in mind, that the GOOD CREOLE COOK NEVER BOILS COFFEE; but insists on dripping it, in a covered strainer, slowly, slowly-DRIP, DRIP, DRIP – till all the flavor is extracted.

To reach this desired end, immediately after the coffee has been roasted and allowed to cool in a covered dish, so that none of the flavor will escape, the coffee is ground – neither too fine, for that will make the coffee dreggy; nor too coarse, for that prevents the escape of the full strength of the coffee juice – but a careful medium proportion, which will not allow the hot water pouring to run rapidly through, but which will admit of the water percolating slowly through and through the grounds, extracting every bit of the strength and aroma, and falling steadily with “a drip! drip!”into the coffee pot.

To make good coffee, the water must be “freshly boiled,” and must never be poured upon the grounds until it has reached the good boiling point, otherwise the flavor is destroyed, and subsequent pourings of boiling water can never quite succeed in extracting the superb strength and aroma which distinguish the good cup of coffee.

It is of the greatest importance that “The Coffee Pot Be Kept Perfectly Clean,” and the good cook will bear in mind that absolute cleanliness is as necessary for the “interior” of the coffee pot as for the shining “exterior.”  This fact is one too commonly overlooked, and yet the coffee pot requires more than ordinary care, for the reason that the chemical action of the coffee upon the tin or agate tends to create a substance which collects and clings to every crevice and seam, and, naturally, in the course of time will affect the flavor of the coffee most peculiarly and unpleasantly.  Very often the fact that the coffee tastes bitter or muddy arises from this fact.  The “inside” of the coffee pot should, therefore, be washed as carefully “every day” as the outside.

Having observed these conditions, proceed to make the coffee according to the following unfailing…

Creole Rule.

Have the water heated to a good boil.  Set the coffee pot in front of the stove; never on top, as the coffee will boil, and then the taste is destroyed.

Allow one cup, or the ordinary mill, of coffee to make four good cups of the liquid, ground and put in the strainer, being careful to keep both the strainer and the spout of the coffee pot covered, to prevent the flavor from escaping.  Pour, first, about two tablespoonfuls of the boiling water on the coffee grounds, or, according to the quantity of coffee used, just sufficient to settle the grounds.  Walt about five minutes; then pour a little more water, and allow it to drip slowly through, but never pour water the second time until the grounds have ceased to puff or bubble, as this is an indication that the grounds have settled.  Keep pouring slowly, at intervals, a little boiling water at a time, until the delightful aroma of the coffee begins to escape from the closed spout of the coffee pot.  If the coffee dyes the cup, it is a little too strong; but do not go far beyond this, or the coffee will be too weak.  When you have produced a rich, fragrant concoction, whose delightful aroma, filling the room, is a constant, tempting invitation to taste it, serve in fine china cups, using in preference loaf sugar for sweetening.  You have then a real cup of the famous Creole Café Noir, so extensively used at morning dawn, at breakfast, and as the “after-dinner cup.”

If the coffee appears muddy, or not clear, some of the old Creoles drop a piece of charcoal an inch thick into the water, which settles it and at once makes it clear. Demonstrations prove that strength remains in the coffee grounds.  A matter of economy in making coffee is to save the grounds from the meal or day before, and boil these in a half gallon of water.  Settle the grounds by dropping two or three drops of cold water in, and pour the water over the fresh grounds.  This is a suggestion that rich and poor might heed with profit.

CAFE AU LAIT.

Proceed in the same manner as in the making of “Café Noir,” allowing the usual quantity of boiling water to the amount of coffee used.  When made, pour the coffee into delicate china cups, allowing a half cup of coffee to each cup.  Serve, at the same time, a small pitcher of very sweet and fresh cream, allowing a half cup of cream to a half cup of coffee.  The milk should always be boiled, and the cream very hot.  If the cream is not fresh and sweet, it will curdle the coffee, by reason of the heat.  Café au Lait is a great breakfast drink in New Orleans, while Café Noir is more generally the early morning and the afternoon drink.

Having thus bid its readers “Good morning,” and drank with them a cup of Café Noir, the Picayune will proceed to discuss Creole Cookery in all its forms, from soup “à la Créole” to “pacandes amandes” and “pralines.”

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The Texas Baker’s Bill… Forward Momentum!

Posted by DmentD | Links,Promotion,Spotlight,Stress | Wednesday 27 April 2011 1:31 pm

Texas House of Representatives Bill #HB2084 (cottage foods, raw milk availability at a wider range of venues, Farmer’s Market support, etc) has been voted out of committee and is on its way to the House to (hopefully) be voted on.  Previously there were two bills supporting a Cottage Food industry in Texas — HB1139 and HB2084 — but HB2084 is the one that apparently got the most attention and support, so we’ll take any progress we can get.

This is the result of a lot of support from individuals contacting their Representatives and the Public Health Committee, and showing up at the public hearing for the bill and putting their names down in support.  This is way further than the bill got two years ago.

Now that the bill is out of committee, the broader membership of the Texas House of Representatives needs to be poked by their constituents, to be let known that they should support HB2084 when it comes up for a vote.  Again, the power of individuals holds a lot of weight here, and if enough noise is made the Representatives may just get the hint that the people they represent think something is important.  An individual voice doesn’t make a lot of noise, but thousands of them added together can raise a din and will start to get attention.

I am asking that you guys email, call, write… whatever, just reach out to your Representative and let them know you want them to support HB2084.  You can figure out who your Rep is HERE . While you’re at it, ask them to sign on as a Joint Author or Co-Author to show their support.  Forward this info to anyone you think may be willing to help out.

If the bill passes the House, we get to start over again with the Senate, but it’ll be a slightly easier road as it will already have momentum.  You can look forward to us bugging you again when that time comes.  *grins*

If this bill makes it through the House and Senate, this opens up a greater opportunity for Sweets to get the bakery business off the ground, legally and without the obnoxious start-up expenses it would take to operate out of a commercial kitchen environment – this would be a happy middle step on the way to that goal.  If you’ve enjoyed any of the yummy baked goods I’ve brought around, consider being able to get them all the time, and having that deliciousness unleashed in Austin.  Consider those treats you’ve already consumed as a down-payment on your willing cooperation in this matter. *grins* A lot of you aren’t very civic minded, so don’t do this for the greater good… do it for Sweets’ and mine.  It’ll only take a few minutes of your time.

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

Posted by DmentD | Aggravation,Links,Promotion,Spotlight,Stress | Monday 11 April 2011 1:05 pm

Well, the Cottage Food Bill is getting the runaround in the Texas Legislature again this year, and time is rapidly running out.  Shenanigans and stalling tactics, and it looks to be Rep. Lois Kolkhorst who has parked it in limbo again.  This blows.

So, the folks behind the bill are urging everyone to step up the game and contact (call and email) all the members of the Public Health Committee — the committee where the bill is stalled out, and that Rep. Kolkhorst is the Chair of.  They also encourage everyone to contact Rep. Joe Straus (Speaker of the House), Gov. Rick PerryLt. Governor David Dewhurst, and anyone else who will listen.

The email I wrote follows, if anyone is interested.  The full list of email addresses for the Public Health Committee is as follows (easy to just copy and paste as needed):

Lois.Kolkhorst@house.state.tx.us; Elliott.Naishtat@house.state.tx.us; Carol.Alvarado@house.state.tx.us; Garnet.Coleman@house.state.tx.us; Sarah.Davis@house.state.tx.us; Veronica.Gonzales@house.state.tx.us; Susan.King@house.state.tx.us; Jodie.Laubenberg@house.state.tx.us; Charles.Schwertner@house.state.tx.us; Vicki.Truitt@house.state.tx.us; John.Zerwas@house.state.tx.us;

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Dear members of the Public Health Committee,

In 2009 a bill was introduced into committee to provide for residential kitchens to legally produce low-risk baked goods — such as cakes and cookies, jams and preserves — and sell them directly to the public.  This bill stalled out in committee, essentially “dying on the vine” before it could even be considered for further action or a vote.

This year the community of Texas home bakers wishing to take their first steps into the light of legal enrichment tried again, and HB1139 was authored and introduced by Representative Eddie Rodriguez.  HB1139, after much outpouring of support from constituents from around the state, has picked up another author — Representative Coleman — and five additional co-authors —  Representatives Gallego, Gonzales, Jackson, Laubenberg & Schwertner (many of which are actually members of the Public Health Committee).  Additionally, and inexplicably, Representative Lois Kolkhorst, the committee Chair, has filed a similar bill in parallel, HB2084.

HB1139 was filed on February 7, then read and referred to the Public Health Committee on February 27.  Calls have been made and letters have been written in enthusiastic support to the various Texas Representatives by their constituents wishing to see HB1139 passed.  There has been copious media and internet coverage in support of this bill.  Social networks have been buzzing for months about this.

Unfortunately, both bills still wither on the vine, and as in 2009 Representative Lois Kolkhorst appears to be the leading source of the roadblock, while her parallel bill appears to be an attempt to dilute the impact of the original.  We, who have been following with great interest, have repeatedly been fed promises of “next week”, and “soon”, and we’re growing a little weary of being put off with friendly words and a smile.  This gives off the whiff of a stalling tactic so that these bills will just disappear once more, buried, while the public that yearn for it are placated like so many noisy children.

There are eighteen other States that have passed Cottage Food Laws, the most recent being Arizona in February 2011.  There a five other States considering Cottage Food Laws right now.  Why are we not being allowed to join their ranks, granting an opportunity for financial independence for individuals and culinary diversity?

The passing of a Cottage Food Law will allow individuals and small groups of home bakers to generate revenue in this otherwise tepid economical landscape.  That revenue is subject to local sales tax (more money for the State!), income tax, and spending cash in the pockets of the bakers themselves to help stimulate the local economies.  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.  It would allow people to fulfill their dreams, to be independent, and to do what they love.

I can’t speak for the rest of Texas, but Austin is fiercely proud of its 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.

Don’t allow the Committee to let this pass by — again — without giving it a chance to flourish.  I ask that you reach out to them and encourage the members of the Committee to nurture these seeds, water and feed them, bring them into the light of day and let them ripen into a glorious opportunity for individuals and the State of Texas.  They should bring this bill into the light and let the House have a chance to put it to a vote.  Please do your part and give these bills some forward momentum.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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Texas Cottage Food Bill Update.

Posted by DmentD | Links,Reflection | Wednesday 23 February 2011 12:12 pm

As posted on Curious Confections:

I saw this statement go up on Lauren Kitchens’ FB page, it’s such a thoughtful and generous piece for the community trying to pass the bill that I had to copy it here for all the people who haven’t seen it or aren’t on FB.

It’s never a fun thing to have to set the record straight, to be misquoted or misrepresented.

But this is where I find myself. An article about the Texas Baker’s Bill was recently published in the Houston Press and Dallas Observer, which unjustly claimed that I do not support the bill. That claim was false and careless, and the newspapers have posted corrections. But too little, too late.

However, all dark clouds have a silver lining, and this event has allowed me to be open and honest about a very delicate issue that I have not thought much about in the past.

The Texas Baker’s Bill is a cottage food bill going through the Texas Legislature that would allow home cake decorators in Texas to operate legitimate bakeries in their home. This bill has not passed the House yet, but support for and against is strong. Many Texas cake decorators have asked my position on this bill and it’s time they knew how I felt.

Upon graduating from college, I was faced with the question all young adults must answer. Now what am I supposed to do? I have always loved decorating cakes, and so I began making cakes out of my parent’s home kitchen.

After a few years, with no responsibilities of marriage or children, I took the plunge and got a Small Business Loan in the fall of 2001. I opened my commercial kitchen/wedding cake boutique in Dallas in the Spring of 2002. I was the beneficiary of perfect timing and opportunity.

In today’s climate, it is next to impossible to get a loan for any business. And with the economy still in the grip of recession, it seems foolish to drop $100,000 to set up a commercial kitchen with no guarantee of success. This should not be regarded as laziness on the behalf of those who do not benefit from the luck of my timing.

Home cake decorators find themselves in a trap. How do I make an income and further my skills as a cake decorator legally? It’s frustrating. I’ve been there. But I had the means to legitimize my business without having to pass state legislation. Most home bakers do not. And for this, I am extremely sympathetic.

Honestly, I had not read the bill until five days ago. And I took no public position on the matter. At first hearing, I thought the bill was a demand for home bakers to slip past the rules without going through the difficulties I went through as a start-up bakery, or the difficulties I go through as a bakery owner today. But upon reading the bill and talking to people all over the state, I see now that it fairly gives home bakers a legitimacy that they deserve.

The bill would enforce several restrictive demands on the home baker. It forces the home baker to become licensed and to pay a yearly fee, as well as a get food manager’s license. The bill forces the home baker to provide proper food labeling for any product they sell, which is something that I am not forced to do. They are even required to label their product as “made in a home kitchen that is not routinely inspected by a local health authority.”

The bill restricts home bakers on how they can sell their product and to whom they can sell it to. There is also a large portion of the bill devoted to whistle blowing, stating that they may easily be held accountable to the state health department.

Seems fair, doesn’t it?

For those in the professional world who ask, why should we legitimize home-based food service? My answer to that is simple. Why wouldn’t we support a bill that legitimizes and regulates food products? This bill sets standards that any food professional would hold important. And, I can say for certain that the Baker’s Bill poses no major competition for commercial bakeries. Not only does the bill set drastic limits on who the home baker may sell to, it also sets income limits. A home baker could never take on the load of a large professional kitchen with its employees, payroll, marketing costs, etc. These home-based bakers do not pose a threat to the gross sales of large commercial bakeries.

Where the client choses to purchase baked goods is essentially up to the client. If the client feels that a home kitchen is unsanitary, they can choose a bakery to purchase product. In turn, if a client feels a commercial kitchen is unsanitary, then they can choose a home-baker to purchase goods from. It’s all about the consumer’s needs, and these consumers are protected in this bill. And there is plenty of business to be had by all.

I am, at heart, a home cake decorator. Home is where I found my passion and nurtured it. Home is where my roots as a bakery owner began. Fancy Cakes by Lauren is a successful small business in Dallas and I am in my 10th year as a proud owner. None of this would have happened if I had not started at home.

We live in a country of choices. We can choose who to vote for, what religion to practice, and we can make life choices that affect our families. The home baker has no choice but to work in the dark. They are screaming for legitimacy and need to be commended for seeking out regulation and guidelines under which they can be held accountable. The bill needs to pass not only for these important standards, but also for these people who dedicate their lives for the betterment of our art. And I am forever respectful of their struggle and efforts to get this legislation passed.

Here is my official stance:

My name is Lauren Kitchens. I am a Texas business owner and a professional in the food service industry. And I support the Texas Baker’s Bill.

In an unrelated note(except in terms of the bill), the bill has gained two co-authors (to a total of three authors now), both of whom are on the Public Health Committee. They are both Republican which makes the bill bi-partisan, in terms of political ‘oomph’ that’s quite significant so our thanks to those guys for supporting the bill!

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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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Happy Holiday Name Of Your Choice.

Posted by DmentD | Entertainment,Links | Friday 24 December 2010 11:23 am

Hope your festive season brings you warmth, sanity and cheer.  Here’s a little cheer to get you started.

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Wine Bottle Lamps.

Posted by DmentD | Domestica,House,Links,Pictures | Saturday 20 November 2010 5:26 pm

I frequently run across things while surfing on the web, and say to myself “Self, wouldn’t it be cool to make that?” and that’s about where it ends.  Don’t get me wrong… I like making things, often in spite of the time and money involved versus just going out and buying something similar — it’s the ‘figuring’, you see… I like to know how something works, and what better way than to make it yourself, and even see if you can improve on a design someone else has come up with.

Recently, a project did catch my eye — something that struck chord in my brain upon first sight.  I stumbled upon THIS page on how to build an oil lamp from an empty wine bottle.  I thought it was elegant, and would work fantastically well to replace the old (and leaky in one case) tiki-style torches I have on the patio, and wouldn’t cost too terribly much to do.  Here’s the basics of what you’ll need (the image and list are blatantly “borrowed” from the original project site):

  1. 1) Empty Wine Bottle (You can use any bottle you like as long as it’s glass and the neck is 1” in diameter. Be clever!)
  2. 2) Teflon Tape ½”
  3. 3) Copper Top Plate Connector (threaded for ⅜”-16 thread rod)
  4. 4) 1” Split Ring Hanger (threaded for ⅜”-16 thread rod)
  5. 5) ½” x ⅜” Copper Coupling
  6. 6) ½” Copper Cap
  7. 7) Two Hex Nuts (threaded for ⅜”-16 thread rod)
  8. 8 ) Two #10 x 1” Zinc Plated Wood Screws (if your mounting it to wood)
  9. 9) ⅜”-16 Zinc Plated Threaded Rod (I bought a 3’ rod and cut it down to 8, 4½” rods with a hacksaw.)
  10. 10) Tiki Replacement Wick
  11. 11) Torch Fuel (For safety reasons, only use fuel made specifically for outdoor torches. i.e. Tiki brand)

Starting with that page and its core concept, I started gathering my materials.  I liked the look of the blue bottle, especially against the copper.  I gathered up some bottles from the homebrew store that suited my needs, and a stop at Lowes and Home Depot netted me most of the rest of the hardware.  No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find anyone local who had the tiki-torch wicks (this late in the season, with autumn upon us already), or the copper flanges in stock.  I turned to my trusty pal, Amazon.com, and ordered what I needed.  The flanges, while being copper colored, are just powder-coated cast metal, and not even copper plated.  If you look at the pieces on the picture above, you’ll notice they are too… but! my split ring hangers are copper plated, and will age nicely with the rest of the holders (except the flange… oh well).

I made a few improvements to the overall design.  First, rather than leave a plain ol’ threaded (non copper colored!) rod out in plain sight I sleeved it with a length of ½” copper pipe that tied the whole design together.  The hex huts actually make a nice accent color amongst all the copper and cover the open ends of the copper pipe perfectly.  Second, I soldered a length of copper chain to the cap so it won’t get lost, and put a copper clasp on the other end to easily fasten it around the neck of the bottle.  Lastly, I drilled through the ½” x ⅜” copper coupling and put a 2″ copper pin through it and the wick to keep the wick from slipping down into the bottle accidentally — I found that the wicks were just a hair narrower than they needed to be to actually stay put in the coupler by themselves.

That addressed the lamps I wanted to mount to the house around the perimeter of the patio, but I still wanted one out on the corner by the yard.  With nothing to mount it to, I set out to build a stand.  Keeping with the copper theme, I used ⅜” copper tubing to build the holder cage, flattening the tube in a vice to make the flat pieces where needed, and ½” copper pipe and fittings to make the stake from.  I even built in a cross-piece at the bottom so I could use my foot the help sink the stake into the ground.

Filled with a Citronella lamp fuel (which is yellow, and is what is making the blue bottles look a little green) they make a nice attractive addition to the patio, and will help fend off flying critters as well.

Also, as a bonus, the same concept can be applied to making attractive wall hanging flower vases.  Check out the how-to HERE.

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