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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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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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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Curious Brew Too.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Domestica,Entertainment,Family,Homebrew,Links,Promotion | Monday 10 May 2010 11:09 am

This week continues my month-long series on homebrewing over at Curious Confections. This week I dive right in and get into the nitty-gritty of brewing some actual beer.  It’s a long post, so get a bowl of popcorn and fermented beverage of your choice and sit back and relax while reading.

Also, a few other pints… er, points of interest.  Sweets and I celebrated our 1 year wedding anniversary this weekend.  Time has zoomed by so fast.  Love you so much, my sweet girl!

We celebrated with dinner at North by Northwest, a local restaurant and brewery here in Austin. The food was wonderful, and the beer (all brewed in-house, obviously) was outstanding… truly top notch.  Of note specifically was their Duckabish Amber (as per NXNW: “Pilsner, Caravienne, and Chocolate malts give this beer its beautiful, deep amber color.  It is soft and creamy and balanced by Horizon hops.”) and their BlackJack, which is their Okanogan Black Ale aged in oak barrels (smooth, rich, and malty with a fantastic oak finish that stayed on the tongue for minutes after each sip).  I took home a growler of the Duckabish.

We will be going back.  These people deserve support.  *grins*

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Curious Brew.

Posted by DmentD | Coolness,Entertainment,Homebrew,Links,Promotion | Monday 3 May 2010 12:35 pm

For those of you not following the blog over at Curious Confections on a regular basis (Sweets and I are food-blogging three times a week… OK, mostly Sweets), or not following Curious Confections, Sweets or me on Twitter (and if you follow all three of us, I’d like to say I’m sorry about you getting triple tweets about new posts on CC… but I’m not.  It’s promotion for building a business), then you may be interested to know that every Monday in May I’m posting about homebrewing.

After an introduction to the concept, I’m going to go through the basic steps involved in the subsequent weeks.  The first post is up now.

You know, just in case you’re interested.

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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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Least I Could Do.

Posted by DmentD | Entertainment,Links,Promotion,Spotlight | Thursday 15 October 2009 12:00 am

In an apparent continuation of pimping webcomics I enjoy, here’s another: Least I Could Do.

Chronicling the day-to-day life story of Rayne Summers, the primary theme of the strip is sexuality… especially the promiscuity of the primary character.  It’s snort-out-loud funny at times, and quite touching (figuratively and literally) at others.

While always written by Ryan Sohmer, the comic has been drawn by three artists through the years… the most current being Lar deSouza– and in my opinion he’s the best… the meld of visual and writing comedy just gelled when they teamed up.  The comic is updated seven days a week.  The duo of Ryan and Lar also publish a second webcomic — Looking for Group, a fantasy based strip that is updated twice weekly.

I suggest, if you’re interested in reading the back-archives to catch up, starting HERE.  That marks the beginning of Lar’s takeover of drawing the comic.

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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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