Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fresh Food on a Snowy Day

Making chicken soup, hot chocolate and tapioca pudding, or Fish Eye Pudding. 

Hot Chocolate Ingredients

Tapioca Ingredients include fresh eggs from this morning.

Many prefer to have their tapioca pudding warm.
It is the freshness of the milk that makes these so good.  It gives both an extra richness and flavor.

Milk is available fresh year round, so one can try to get milk right from the dairy farm, raw, often that had been bottled just hours ago.


Jersey cow personalities remind one of Golden Retriever personalities.   

 Sanitizing the Udder Before Hooking Up to the Milking Machine 

Throughout the entire process,  the milk is untouched by human hands.
Distributing some hay...

...and then applied an udder sanitizer/moisturizer after the cows had been milked.

There is always a lot of hand washing.

Ready for the Final Episode of Downton Abbey (on DVD)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Brothers Joe (left) and Rick (right) Lotuff
In many ways, sartorially, we currently live in a barren, shameless era.
  • Ugliness is status quo, and gaudiness embraced.
  • So many incredibly expensive items are sold that have been incredibly cheaply made.
  • Short term thinking prevails, from customers wanting instant status to vendors wanting crazily high profit margins.
  • The people who should be leading us - publications, celebrities, many of the most well off, and grown-ups in general - aren't.
  • To those who do care, vendors actively mislead us about pedigrees of products. Branding is not just tangential to reality, but often at odds with it.
I believe the assaults on taste and fair value are just trends, not the result of some Hegelian dialectic. These market patterns are cyclical not linear. They will reverse over time. But I am impatient.

So with that in mind, if The Daily Prep readers were asked to imagine a luxury line of products that could compete globally on, for example, the Main Floor of Barneys, what might their commandments be?

I suspect they would include:
  • Be made in the U.S., and for some, preferably even in New England
  • Use very high quality materials.
  • Use very high quality craftsmanship.
  • Epitomize simple, timeless designs. The product should be as understated as possible, yet beautiful. The quality should enable a Shaker-esque (or is it better to say Steve Jobs-esque) simplicity. It should have absolutely no bling or unnecessary adornments. 
  • Design so that the product will be in service 30 years now. Parts inevitably destined to be worn should be easy to replace. In fact, it should get better with age. Of course the company itself should stand behind the products.
These are, interestingly enough, the same guidelines (albeit in my words) Lotuff is following. Their goal is to embody these principles.

I was able to spend an afternoon with Rick and Joe Lotuff and their team in their New England facility.  And I was also able to watch my own handbag being made.

We started off talking about design.
I was reminded of the quote "A designer knows that he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away" - Antoine de St-Expurey
 Craftsmen, some with over 30 contiguous years of experience around building and repairing bags, add a perspective around design, especially when the explicit goal is to create products that will last that long and longer.
Lindy discussed nuanced changes to the Signature Handbag... in Red.
I loved hearing about the design decisions and philosophies in practice.
I learned about interiors and layouts.
I made the faux pas of handling one of the bags gingerly. Joe set me straight. (Insert your own early days of football reference here!)
The manufacturing process starts with the vegetable-tanned leather.
Rick explained why they use vegetable tanned leather. The more popular alternative is to use an iron based process (chromium) which actually rusts over time, leading to cracks in the leather.
Stacks of Leather

For precision, each product is cut one at a time. (Mass producing, in contrast, requires the cutting of stacks at a time, which often results in mismatched shapes.) 

The tools included modern and ancient.

I must say it was a thrill to see my own Navy bag being made.

(And I got to choose my number!)

These bags have no exterior logo (mine just has my initials).    Excuse my effusiveness, but that is just so amazing.  Historically, it recalls the old custom suits.  But in today's brand-obsessed world, when purchases are made first to be shown off, having a product that projects substance from every pore rather than relying on the crutch of a super-sized logo seems so civilized.
And then the real assembly began.
The hammer is an incredibly useful and satisfying tool of the trade.
While my bag was being built, I enjoyed seeing some of the final steps (like fire) being applied to other items.
The final Lotuff products glow.
The Exquisite Lotuff Small Leather Tote

A New Briefcase, the Lotuff Wells Bag...
...and the Lotuff iPad Case.
We ended the day discussing future plans and the state of the market. And hair.

Rick, Joe, Greg, and Lindy
I know of a few authors who visit this blog on a regular basis. This forces me to reflect how frustratingly static my own lack of arc must be for them. 

Having said that, perhaps the substantive journey of record here is not mine but New England's. Because at the same time the largest corporations are pandering to the lowest brow tastes (and collectively scuttling their organizations for the next generation in the process), many emerging companies written about here are competing at all market price points and all over the world by uniquely meeting the needs of new breeds of customers with classic tastes. 

Together, they are creating, taking on, and leading previously ceded market segments (and employing our neighbors in the process). This export of taste and values and even sanity is the true tale worth chronicling.

As I write this, I wait for my Lotuff bag, which needed some finishing steps, to arrive via UPS.  I am excited.  So you will forgive me and understand if I abruptly lea...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Making Beeswax Candles

It has been very cold here of late so indoor activities, especially those that take place around a stove, have held a somewhat greater appeal.  These candles are incredibly easy and fast to make,  sheets of pure honeycomb beeswax.

First divide the honeycomb sheet in half (by scoring it through bending and then tearing) and...

...then hold it over the heat of a wood-stove for only thirty seconds or so until it slightly softens.

Measure and cut the wick,  line it up on the edge...

...and start to tightly wrap.

The process is quick and relatively idiot-proof.

Hold the finished product over the heat once again, enough to soften and seal the edge.

Inspected by the Maremma Sheepdog