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So Close, But Yet So Far

Speed up, slow down, speed up, slow down. We seem to either be going full tilt or we're at a standstill waiting for things to get figured out. 

The labels are done and look awesome. The bottle sourcing has been figured out. We even got ourselves a commercial kitchen space not far from home with an awesome group of food businesses. And every license and permit we've been told we need is either aquired or being processed, excpet one.

We're still waiting on the decision regarding our application for non-potable status and were about a week away from finding out when the whole government shut down, TTB included. Now who knows. My hopes of being ready to start selling for the holidays are slowly fading. 

Eat Real Fest - Make Your Own Bitters

This past weekend I gave two demos in the making of bitters at Oakland's Eat Real Festival. I had a great time and we got huge turn out of enthusiastic folks asking all sorts of questions. Dan and I walked away feeling like this could really work, people loved the tastes we were pouring, and wanted to know all about bitters and cocktails. 

I had a few folks ask if I would post some of the information I was dispensing, so this is more or less what I was sharing with folks. 

Bitters are the spice rack of cocktail making. They highlight or down play flavors, bring disparate flavors together, and add depth to your cocktails. More specifically they are a mixture of herbs, spices, botanicals, and fruits steeped in a booze base. A tincture or extract in the simplest of terms. 

To create your own bitters start by thinking of what types of booze you normally drink or what kind of cocktail you intend to use it in, then pick one or two flavors that go well with it. For instance my aromatic bitters focuses on dried cherries, walnuts, and ginger. I made a lime corriander bitters to use in gimlets, a cardomom bitters to go in fall cocktails with apple juice and vodka. For vodka and tequila lighter, brighter flavors are better, for rum, bourbon and whiskey rich, spicey, and nutty flavors work best. 

Once you decide on a flavor or two to highlight then you select spices and herbs to complement. In my aromatic bitters I use warm baking spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, and vanilla. Flavors like lemon and lime work with corriander, black pepper, hops, and basil. Oranges and apples go with clove, cinnamon, and vanilla. The combinations are endless and only limited by your creativity. 

The last part is deciding the bittering agents. I use gentian, quassia and black walnut leaf primarily. Gentian is the strongest and most bitter with an earthy, musty flavor. Quassia is also quite bitter, but has a much cleaner flavor, almost grass like. I use more of the quassia so it hits you up front with a clean, sharp bitterness, and a little gentian to help it linger on the palate. Then I use the black walnut to round out the flavor and add a sweet bitterness to the mix. However, there are many things that can be used to bitter your bitters. Wormwood and cinchona bark are also quite common. Then things like hops or the pith of citrus can also be used to add bitterness.

When you decide all the ingredients you place them in a container with your base alcohol. 100 proof more or less is ideal, watered down Everclear always works, but in many cases 100 proof bourbon or rye is also a great choice. You're roughly looking for a ratio of 1 to 4, solids to booze, but bulkier ingredients like nuts or citrus peel may take up a bit more space. Bittering agents should be used in 1/4 - 1 tsp measurements. Spices in the 1/2 tsp to 1 Tbsp range depending on how strong a flavor. If using fruit try the peel of one or two whole pieces, or a quarter cup chopped. All this should go in 2-3 cups booze.

The rest of the steps are as follows:

Step 1: All ingredients (botanicals + booze) go in the jar and sit for 2 weeks. Shake occasionally.

Step 2: Strain solids from booze. Set booze aside in a sealed container. Simmer solids with 1 - 1 1/2 cups water for 10 minutes. Let water and solids sit for 1 week.

Step 3: Strain and discard solids from water. Mix booze and water together. Add 2 tbsp simple syrup*. Let sit for 3 days.

Step 4: Filter bitters through cheesecloth. Use generously.

*Simple syrup is 2 parts sugar to 1 part water simmered until sugar is dissolved. 

There was a lot experimentation and questions about how much of each ingredient and what goes together, but the truth is there is no one answer. I encourage you to play and test.

May Update

Being busy has a way of floating the most important tasks to the top of the pile. However it also feels like we hit a stagnant patch as every time we try to move forward on our list of tasks we find that one thing is dependent on another that we didn’t expect.

We put together a pitch to ask some of our friends to help us financially in this early stage. A lot of costs are building up, licensing, ingredients, bottles and label design are just a few. We’ve had a few pitch in, but we’re still looking for more to make our plan work. Not having the cash in the bank has been holding up a few things, but we’re still pushing through on getting the label done.

I’m very excited about the design process. I found an amazing designer who totally got my vision and is great to work with. We’re only in the initial stages, but I see something amazing happening. I promise to share more later about the whole process.

The bottle has been another source of frustration. I asked for some samples back in the end of February and found one I loved. Very different than I expected, but it was distinct, classy, and most importantly cheap. However it was from a clearinghouse and didn’t have caps that went along with it and we would have had to buy at 1500 to start, but it was possible the minimum purchase would have been even more. I looked around to source a cap and found that it was designed to take something called ROPP or roll on pilfer proof. They were easy enough to find, but getting them on takes special equipment that wasn’t really going to fit in our budget, not to mention I don’t like the way they look.

So now we’re back to the drawing board with bottles. We’ll most likely end up going with something a little more versatile and simple in design letting the label do all the work, but we still have to find it and it seems most of the bottles on the market are either boring or really odd. We’re narrowing in, but still nothing solid yet.

I also haven’t sent my bitters sample off to be tested for the non-potable designation because we have to have a commercial kitchen listed on the application. In San Francisco commercial kitchen space is hard to find if you don’t create your own. So I reached out to a few friends in the restaurant community looking for a bar that has kitchen space where I could produce. I’ve got a few leads, but still nothing solid.

Slowly, but surely it will all happen. It may not be as fast as I like, but it does feel like we’re moving forward and more importantly doing things in a way that won’t bite us in the ass further down the road. 

Deviled Eggs

This post is a little late, but Easter kind of snuck up on me and then flew by this year. But since deviled eggs are so tasty I'm going to share with you anyway. For quite some time now I've been making deviled eggs every easter. It started because San Francisco uses any excuse it can to get dressed up and drink. Easter is no exception and there's an annual celebration put on by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence each year in Dolores Park. They start out kid friendly with an easter egg hunt and bonnet contest, but as the day progresses the skits get a bit more bawdy ending with a hunky jesus contest which is really just an excuse for scantily clad men and women to parade on stage for applause.

For me it's an excuse to hang out in the park with friends eating and drinking for most of the afternoon. The entertainment is just a bonus. Deviled eggs and bloody mary's were always tasked to me to bring. My friends seem to think I excelled at making both. I haven't made bloody mary's in years, but the eggs I kept making even if I ended up staying home.

This year I'm glad I had no plans to head to the park as we were pelted with huge downpours throughout the day, but I still made Dan and I deviled eggs for lunch. Some traditions are just hard to break.

Whenever I go out if there's deviled eggs on the menu, and in SF this tends to happen more than you would expect, I order them just to see how good they are. While some have been quite impressive, I often find the chef is trying too hard. I really like the tried and true simple version. The hardest part about making them should be peeling the boiled eggs.

G's Deviled Eggs
This recipe can easily be doubled or even quadrupled

6 of the freshest eggs you can get
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp brown or dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika to finish 

The real key to deviled eggs is cooking the eggs just right. Here's my favorite for method for boiled eggs:

Put the eggs in a medium sized saucepan. There should be enough room for all the eggs to fit on the bottom of the pan with a little extra room, no stacking of the eggs. Fill the pan with enough water to just cover the eggs. Put on high heat and bring to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil set a timer for 5 minutes. While the eggs boil make an ice bath. When your timer goes off, take the eggs out of the boiling water and put directly into the ice bath. A slotted spoon works best for this.

Let the eggs cool for at least 5 minutes before peeling.

Once the eggs have cooled, peel them, cut them in half lengthwise, and separate the yolks from the whites. Be careful to leave the whites as intact as possible. The yolks should be a little translucent in the center still.

Put the yolks in a food processor with the mayonnaise, mustard and a pinch of salt (go light on the salt to start).

Process still creamy and smooth.

You can mix by hand, but you'll have a hard time getting the mixture totally smooth.

Once the mixture is smooth, adjust salt and mix in a touch of pepper.

Spoon the mixture back into the egg white halves.

Finish with a dusting of paprika.

Better Than I Thought

I've been at the new job for a month now and while there's been many adjustments and I still haven't totally found my rhythm, I'm really enjoying the change. Getting up at 7:30 every morning is a bit rough, but I'm making it happen. The best part has been being a part of something that has a forward momentum I'm not wholly responsible for. There is definitely a sense of "we're still figuring this out", but we're all in it together and excited to see where this ride takes us. I gotta say that's not a bad energy to have at work every day.

At first I was really feeling like a failure for taking a job. Logically I knew this was silly, but I'd been working so hard for the past few years to employ myself and also coaching others to do so, that I really did feel like I had sold out. But eventually the feeling that I had given up or crossed to the dark side passed as I began to accept that this shift was both beneficial to my career and my general well being.

The change in income is making me feel so much more secure and in control. It is a bit distressing to me that it makes so much difference, but it really does. Not having to worry if we overspent at the grocery store or if that decision to order take out will break the bank is truly liberating. I have more space in my head for the things that really do matter and I also have the funds to keep pushing Bitter Housewife forward without sacrificing in any other way.

The new demands on my time have also shifted my perspective on what “needs” to get done and how urgent it all is. Since the time I have to spend on Bitter Housewife is so limited, I no longer have the luxury of feeling like I need to be doing it all. I simply can't, so the truly important things become much clearer. I still want to do everything and all of it right now, but knowing I can't takes a lot of pressure off. Things also don't seem so urgent to me. I'm not sure if this is good or bad yet, but it certainly helps to support the sense of calm I'm feeling these days.

It might have something to do with how productive I'm feeling. I think many of you are familiar with the motivation that builds when you feel like you're accomplishing things on a regular basis. Since my job is much more defined, but also limited in scope I actually get my to do list done almost everyday, which gives me the boost I need to accomplish things outside of work. I no longer have that constant feeling of being behind and underwater. It really is amazing.

But besides all the calm, security, and perspective I've gained I'm also learning a ton about another way of doing business. I'm versed in the restaurant world and the small business, do-it-yourself on a shoestring world, but start-ups are a new and different beast. So are the people who thrive in them and seek them out. There is so much passion and eagerness, it's a bit infectious. Everyone's paths are so varied, I love hearing what they've all been doing and want to do that brought them to point they're at now. There just seems to be so much possibility and I like being surrounded by that feeling.

I'm still struggling a bit to find the time to make granola and bread every week, Dan and I are eating lunch and dinner out more often, and I haven't had a workout in a month, but I see it all falling into place soon. In the meantime I'm loving the general good mood that seems to be prevailing and believe it or not the progress that I've still been able to make with Bitter Housewife.