Monday, January 31, 2005

The Bready Rice Pudding Experiment 

Was a sort of success.

OK, the bread pudding came out marvelously light, both airy and chewy at the same time. The "bite" factor (or mouth feel) was very very good.

I took day old bread (white farmers bread, which may be the problem), mixed spices into cream cheese and spread that on the bread, then cut the bread into cubes and layered them in the buttered casserole.

I took steamed rice from an earlier meal (I planned this so we had lots of rice left over). I know, I know, we're supposed to use a sticky rice for pudding, a short-to-mediun grain, but I used a lovely long grain basmati.

I beat eggs with heavy cream, added more spices, and sweetened it with a mix of brown sugar and honey. Then, I stirred the cool rice and some raisins into the custard and poured all of that over the bread cubes.

I baked it in a bain marie for half an hour, stirred it up and added more spices, then baked it until it was done.

Hot and fresh out of the oven, it was pure comfort food, no need for any sauce.

Cold, for breakfast, I made an Orange Frangelico Sauce to pour over it, and that was very yummy, especially since I sprinkled toasted haelnuts on it, too.

Blending a Swedish style baked rice pudding with a traditional bread pudding was an inspired idea.

I think I'm going to tinker with the recipe some more, jazz it up with more spice (I thought it needed cardamom), and try it with a different, more flavorful bread. I have some sourdough from Australia coming, and I may bake bread with that - it's called Tasmanian Devil. I think I'll make a brioche dough with it, and use that for the bread base - or maybe a cinnaman maple swirl bread, or a sweet herb bread of some sort. I may also use a riper cheese than cream cheese, or perhaps creme fraiche or yogurt in place of part of hte heavy cream.

It's yummy, but boring, and I want to wow it up a bit without detracting from it's comfort properties.

Friday, January 28, 2005


At lunch today, in the cafeteria, I thought I'd try their apple spice cake with a translucent orange glaze. It looked yummy, with chunks of apple, and a dark spicy looking cake.

But it was one of the best "fool you" dishes I've encountered in a long time.

Even if it had not been placed among the cakes and pies, I still would have thought it was an apple spice cake.

I have no clue what it really was, and the staff was too busy during the lunch rush to ask.

The ingredients, however, were easy enough to discern. The primary ingredient, what I thought was apple chunk, turned out to be rice - long grain, undercooked rice, colored an appley caramel color by the spices. The binding, which I'd assumed was cake, was a thick, cold gravy, heavily spiced with clove and black pepper, and nowhere near enough cinnamon. The orange glaze had no discernable flavor, but that might be because my tongue was numbed by the cloves.

I think, done right, though, this could be an intriguing rice pudding.

I'd use a short grain, sticky rice, cooked in nice medieval style spices - cloves, of course, and cinnamon, with cubebs, cracked pepper, saffron, and roses. I'd make a sauce of more spices - heavier on the cinnamon with a touch of almond now and oranges. I'd thicken it with the crumbs of a dense peasant bread, and mix the rice into the bread. It would chill until firm, and then I'd slice and serve it with an almond orange glaze.

It would be an interesting mix of both a rice pudding and a bread pudding.

How cool is that?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


An ever-re-ocurring theme, isn't it?

But location is important. We still lust after the location over by Penn Square Mall, but there's a lovely place that may be even better on NW 50th, right beside the sport field for all the high schools in the school district and directly across the street from a well used park with Little League fields that are in constant use during baseball and football seasons. It's also in a district with just over a 2¢ lower sales tax. And, best of all, there's nothing similar in the area where parents, high schoolers, and park visitors can get coffees, cocoas, teas, cookies, breads, pies, cakes, and such.

All the sport oriented high school students would be exposed to the Cracked Cauldron and their parents, and it could easily become a place where teens hang out after school - buying the very things they love spending their money on - cappuccinos and cookies.

It's also very easy to find and access, with lots of available parking.

Southern Nazarene University is close, as is Oklahoma City University, and the Oklahoma City campus for Oklahma State University. It's a short drive for University of Central Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma, and Oklahoma Baptist University.

The street is both a snow route (meaning if we get snow, it's one of the major streets they plow) and located on the corner of 2 major streets - Meridian and NW 50th.

I'm studiously ignoring the fact that it's located less than a full city block from my house - if we exit through the backyard and cut through the school parking lot.

So, we'll see.

Yes, we've been here before, we'll probably be here several times more, checking out property leases, square footage, and traffic counts.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Forbidden Pig 

Pig is an interesting animal. Some societies dote upon the pig and the flesh of the pig, others strictly forbid it.

Obviously, eating pig is not toxic or dangerous, or entire cultures would be wiped out by the love of all things pig.

So, why do some cultures forbid pig and others revel in the meat of it?

Some say a God or their Gods spoke and named the food a forbidden one.

I can accept that. But, being the curious-minded person I am, I have to wonder why a God would forbid a perfectly scrumptious dish? Even more so since the society in which I grew up was pig-dependent.

My first chore as a child was taking care of the geese and collecting the goose down they shed. My pockets were always full of prickles, and even today, when I stick my hand into a pocket, I expect to feel feathers. My second job was chopping the heads off chickens. Then castrating pigs.

That order is very important because chopping off chicken heads taught me the proper flick of the wrist needed to castrate the pigs, and the constant exercise strengthened me so I could do the castration quickly and humanely.

Pig was very important to my community. We treated them well, and when they died for our dinners, they died quickly and painlessly.

I couldn't understand for years why some people were forbidden a food I considered essential.

I grew up in rural Germany, in the forested mountains, not far from streams and rivers. It was a lush, ideal environment for the pigs. They spent much of their lives rooting around in the nearby woods. Some would always go feral, of course, but most trotted home at night with little encouragement from the boys.

But in the Middle East, where Judaism and Islam originated, two of the cultures that forbid pig, it was desert.

Pigs sunburn. They sunburn very badly.

In a hot, dry place, their skin peels and cracks. They will seek out mud with which to plaster themselves to escape the agony of the hot sun. If there's no water, they will roll in their own urine and excrement. That means in a desert environment, they are unclean animals. Of course, the conditions under which they are sometimes farmed is no less disgusting because people will raise pigs where they aren't supposed to be. Pigs are forest animals, not plains animals or desert animals.

They take a lot of resources that would best be used for human survival. In deserts, you want cows and goats and sheep - animals that can forage on growing things that people can't eat. Pigs eat the same things people do. They share the same resources, unlike sheep.

See where this is going?

It was counter-survival to allow desert dwellers to concentrate their resources on an animal that was divinely yummy but used up essential resources for human survival. It was far more efficient to herd the goats and sheep and cows in pastures of grasses that humans couldn't eat, then eat the animals.

Pig is a tempting meat. Sweet. Tender. Paeans of praise have been written to the delectability of pig.

And the desert-dwellers were no less fond of pig meat than the forest dwellers.

When it came to survival as a people, or eating yummy things, which do you suppose would win out?

Surprise, it would be the pig.

People are ruled by their tummies. Or perhaps I should say their tongues. Who cares if the family next door is deprived of water and food so your pig can grow fat and sweet for your table?

Obviously, the God of the Jews and the Islams cared.

Or maybe it was a smart priest, who put the survival of his people first, and used the Voice of God to make sure the people weren't weak and raised counter-survivalist food animals.

Either way, it makes solid sense to me to forbid pig meat to desert dwellers eking out a survival in arid lands.

And it makes sense to have a God forbid it, because you just know people will sneak raising pigs in if they can at all justify it. Pigs would be raised as sacrifices, and eaten at first at only special religious ceremonies nad feasts, and before you know it, there'd be a special feast requiring the sacrifice of a pig every week - and people would upset the ecology of the desert to irrigate the land for pig raising because they were sacred pigs. And people would starve for the sacred pigs and the pig feasts.

Selfishness isn't a modern trait at all.

Of course, it could simply be that the desert Gods forbade it because pigs are unclean animals in the desert, and they carry trichinosis.

I prefer the story of survival to the story of disease, mostly because I grew up with pigs.

And if some God whispered in the ear of a priest to spread the word that pigs must be forbidden or the People would die, why, I'd believe it. In the desert, anyway.

And were I descended from such desert dwellers and wanted to adhere to the faith of my ancestors, I'd continue to keep the taboo on pig meat out of respect for the wisdom of my God, who saw to their survival, and hence to my existence. I'd at the very least hold a pig-free fast in memory of those days and as thanksgiving for our continued survival.

But I didn't descend from desert people. I grew up with pig farming Germans, and have a totally different view of pigs.

Monday, January 24, 2005


No, we won't be serving pizza at the Cracked Cauldron, but only because we have no desire to compete with all the many pizza businesses already out there.

However, we created a smashing pizza crust recipe, and even though it's not technically medieval, we'll be including the recipe in our special cookbook for the Medieval Faire.

What we need is a good name for the cookbook. If any of you who read this can come up with a good name, we'll send you a copy of the cookbook.

To help out a bit, we'd like the name to be reflective of the Cracked Cauldron and the Middle Ages or the Age of Chivalry. The primary re-enactment group performing at MedFaire is Arthurian-based, the theme of the Faire is slightly more fantasy than historical, and if the weather is anything like last year's, we expect approximately 300,000 visitors in the space of a single weekend.

The recipes range from a moist gingerbread to sweet manchets to savory stews and meat pies - all things we can (and probably will) serve in the Cracked Cauldron, culled from assorted medievalish sources (Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Das Kochbuch des Sabina Welserin [handwritten copy from 1553], Das Buech von Gueter Spise, Fools and Fricasses: Food In Shakespeare's England, Gerard's Herbal, The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Opened and more) and adapted (called redacted) by us to modern tastes. The recipes may undergo further transformations as we play around with the spice quantities. I like it spicier, but most people are overwhelmed by my fondness for cloves and lavender...so we'll adjust for a more popular tongue than mine, but these are tasty enough to share as is.

So, anyone game for a catchy, limited edition cookbook title?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Moving Forward a Centimeter at a Time 

So, a friend spoke to someone who likes to invest in local businesses, and he actually came to talk to me.


He had other things to do, but he took the time to ask if we were still looking for investors and to get a card.

I don't know if it will go any further than this. Even if it doesn't result in another investor, it will likely result in at least one new customer because he likes his coffee and baked goods.

So, teeny little glacial centimeters, but they are all moving forward.

I know Manager is frustrated by this slowness, and panicking a little because she's reaching the end of her discretionary finances and not enough is coming back in.

And the final numbers for last year's MedFaire attendence is in - 300,000 visitors in a 3 day period!

We still haven't found a commercial kitchen to use to prepare the soups and baked goods for the Faire so a booth there is still in limbo. We do have the alternative of using a corner of the blacksmith's booth to distribute samples (which, not being sold, come under different health rules than food for sale) and information, or perhaps even we'll be allowed a small booth ourselves to hawk the Cracked Cauldron.

If we are only able to do the sampling booth/corner of table, our menu will of necessity be deeply limited: Pyrate's Brew (coffee richly spiced with the taste of the Caribbean - hot if we have electricity, cold if not) and cookies (gingerbread, and iced sugar cut-outs of a medieval theme like castles and knights and mythological creatures like unicorns, dragons, pixies, and ogres) will probably all we can manage without the use of a commercial kitchen.

I'm thinking of ordering up some little trinkets to distribute with the Cracked Cauldron logo, number, and blogsite to hand out - depending on finances by then. Buttons or stickers or magnets or something more memorable than cards. If we have our own booth, we may order mugs or a special, limited edition of our cookbook to sell.

MedFaire is three months away.

If any of you are in Oklahoma that first weekend of April - April 1, 2, and 3rd - see if you can stop by MedFaire. It's in Norman, Oklahoma, at Reaves Park. Take Highway 9 east off of I-35, and then take the Jenkins Exit north. Go north on Jenkins to the Lloyd Noble Center parking lot (it'll be on your left), park there, and walk across the street to Reaves Park.

Entry into the Faire is FREE, and there are jousts, mock combats, a Hamadryad, stage performances, pony, camel, and elephant rides, and over 200 vendors of unusual things.

Even if we can't get our own booth there this year, we'll still be there.

Look for the banner with a cracked cauldron on it.

It should hopefully be near the blacksmith's booth at the very southeast end of the Faire.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Checking Out Locations 

We looked at two of the locations for rent last night. Or rather, tried to.

One was located in a decent enough place - access was easy, the parking lot was in a minor state of disrepair, but nothing unusual for Oklahoma, traffic was good, the space for rent was certainly large enough - it was one of the anchor spaces in a strip mall. It shared a wall with a bar. Ironic, eh, a coffeehouse/bakery snuggled up to a bar? The problem is that there isn't enough parking for both a bar and the Cracked Cauldron. The bar is apparently a popular one and their patrons use up every single space in the parking lot after 6:00 PM. This would be no good for us.

So we went to the second location.

We couldn't find it. After four drive-bys, looking carefully, we could not find the space for rent. We couldn't find the address, or even a building with a similar address. Very bad. If we can't find out, how can we expect our customers to find it?

So, we'll check out the remaining one just down the street a piece. The location's good, the rent is reasonable, the size is small but adequate.

And on the way home, we found an even better place, right beside a major high school sport field, on the crossroads of 2 major through streets, easy entry to the spacious parking lot. If the rent is reasonable...we may have a winner!

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Several weeks ago, we mentioned a location we were investigating that was catty-cornered from a university. We have not been able to make contact with the owners, even after sending a certified letter to their last known address. The building is 1 year in arrears for taxes, unfortunately, it will not be sold for back taxes until it is 3 years in arrears. Because it will be at least 2 more years before we can do anything on it in reference to the taxes, we decided to search for the mortgage holder, to see if it was in default and if we could assume the loan, but have had no luck so far.

While we will still pursue avenues for that location, we aren't going to count on it.

We found 3 other locations that look good. Traffic counts range from 17,436 a day to 21,184. The size ranges from 2500 square feet to 3600 square feet, and prices from $950.00 to $1,400.00 a month. If we are approved for leasing the equipment, it's possible we could be open in a few short weeks.

I know. We've said it before.

And we meant it then, too.

With my tax refund, we need to only finance up another $10,000.00 to get the bare bones of the Cracked Cauldron open. ($20,000.00 would be nice.)

Quite a difference from the $180,000.00 we were seeking just six months ago, eh?

Things haven't gone as smoothly as we hoped for, but conversely, things haven't gone as negatively as we'd planned for, either.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


There are 3 nice locations which just came up for rent - accessible, easy to find, just off a major thoroughfare, about the right size.

We looked at them yesterday, and went to a new restaurant supply store that just opened up. They have a program to lease all their equipment - much of it what we can use.

I also just filed my taxes last night, so I know I'm getting a hefty tax refund, enough, perhaps, to finish off funding the opening of the Cracked Cauldron as a coffee shop to start with, and to work up to the full line bakery.


Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Not your ordinary cup of hot chocolate!

These are small cups of liquid truffles - dense, thick hot chocolate flavored with oranges and a harrar moka coffee. Topped with whipped cream, they aren't to be gulped, hot or chilled. This is a cup of sipping cocoa, elegant, rich, and best accompanied by a dense fruitcake. I think the Virgin Fruitcake - the all-white one made with the pale dried fruits like golden currants, apples, apricots, and pineapple, would be excellent. Posted by Hello

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The King Cake. Posted by Hello

A slice of the King Cake, so you can see the cream and chocolate filling. Posted by Hello

Dough's On The Rise 

The dough's rising for the King Cake. Look for pictures later today!

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


Since January 6th, we've been in the celebratory season known as Carnival, which ends with Fat Tuesday, so I felt it was only proper to begin my chronicling of the history of assorted foods and spices by sharing what little I know of the history of that marvelous confection known as King Cake.

I confess I've never eaten a King Cake prepared by any baker other than myself in the US. I have eaten French and German King Cakes in assorted parts of Europe, made by some of the best bakeries of the time. That was decades ago.

I've never had a New Orleanian King Cake, but I hope to someday.

Anyway, that's getting off track.

The King Cake has perhaps one of the most scandalous histories, all caused by the lowly bean.

See, this bean is hidden in the cake, and the person (originally a child) who got the bean was crowned king for the day.

This sounds pretty tame, right?

But it traces back to some Greek Apollonian mysteries, where the king of the day is addressed as a child of Apollo and assumed the role of an oracle. The rites and rituals surrounding this were widespread, and often rather licentious.

The Christians limited their consumption of this King Cake with its magic bean to the Epiphany celebration following Christmas and replaced the real bean with a porcelain one displaying a face emerging from one end.

I think it would be so cool to have one of those beans.

Anyway, this porcelain bean eventually was changed to a crowned head, supposedly in honor of the biblical three kings, but in reality, the tokens often bore a striking resemblence to the current king of the country in which the cakes were consumed.

Until the French Revolution, that is.

The pastissiers who baked these royalist King Cakes were arrested in Paris as criminals - but the cakes continued to be baked and eaten.

So, what's a poor mayor who is being disobeyed on every side do? Why, he renames the cake!

He called it le Gateau des Sans-Culottes (Cake of Men-Without-Pants) - in honor of the beggars of Paris.

Somehow, that name didn't stick, and we still call it King Cake today.

Almost every European country has a version of it, and when we open the Cracked Cauldron, we'll make different versions of it, from the fruity British version to the colorful New Orleanian version.

My favorite, the one I prefer to make, is based off a sweet and fragile brioche dough, and filled with cream, coconut, pecans, and cinnamon, drenched in chocolate sauce and sprinkled with the Mardi Gras colors of green, yellow, and purple.

I learned to make this version in Switzerland, blending the best of French and German cooking, then added to Mardi Gras colors after coming to the US.

In my traveling youth, I attended the Mardi Gras celebration on Fat Tuesday twice, and became an avid collector of beads and coins - my bead collection far exceeding my coin collection.

Anyway, I'm getting off track again.

Over the years, the celebration around the King Cake has tamed down. A lot. Instead of being hailed as King/Queen for the day, whoever gets the token now has to buy the next King Cake.

In our celebration of the King Cake, we hide several tokens: a crown for the King/Queen who gets to choose the party music and lead the games at Mardi Gras - and we let them march at the head of our little parade; a heart for the Lord/Lady of Misrule, who can overset the entertainment choices and mock the King/Queen; and the baby for providing next year's cake.

Back before we started sharing our King Cakes with others, it was just the family parading, which made it very small, and since our house is built on a circle pattern, it made it easy to parade indoors if it was cold and rainy.

Of course, now we share the King Cake with a larger group of people...and hope to share it an even larger group. Soon.

I'll be making a King Cake this weekend, and will post a picture of it, so you can at least see what you're missing.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Forbidden Foods 

Ayup. That title grabs, doesn’t it? In today’s society, there’s not a single food that isn’t forbidden by some popular or scientific person somewhere – eggs and all the dairy, meats, asparagus, the beloved brassica family, tomatoes, potatoes, pasta, fish, all the oils, corn, wheat, soy. According to all the tabloids and and popular diet books, the only safe thing to eat is: nothing. Even air is bad for you. Sorry, all you aspiring breathtarians.

So why are foods so verboten?

Me, I speculate that it’s because some important person ate something, then died from it. That would be a pretty scary thing, back in pre-history, that something meant to keep you alive killed you. So, all the survivors avoided that food, and taught their descendent to avoid it, too. Eventually, it became wrapped up in mysticism and religion, and now they were forbidden to eat it by their gods.

Of course, it could also have been because of hoarding: an important person really liked a certain food, and refused to let anyone else eat it. They wrapped it up in religion to enforce the rule, and it passed down generations that way: only a privileged few were able to safely eat the forbidden food.

Then, of course, when people became more numerous, we have merchants getting into it and politicians allying with merchants. That’s one of the more powerful reasons behind Fish Fridays and fast days of various sorts.

Cool, huh?

There are many stories involving the sins of foods, and how they became forbidden, and why we still eat them. And, in the many years I’ve been knocking about, many food-related anecdotes which highlight some of these food taboos. I think I’ve violated almost all of them at one time or other.

Until we open the Cracked Cauldron, we’ll explore some of the stories about the foods we’ll serve, from Virgin’s Nipples (a classic Italian custard filled pastry topped with a candied cherry) to the Potato Wars and beyond.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Manager's Bio 

Manager's bio is up, now. Just click on her name in the sidebar to view it.

An apple pie fragrantly seasoned with cinnamon and cardamom, and wrapped ina a cheddar cheese crust. Posted by Hello

A loaf of garbanzo bread, flavored with cracked peppers. Posted by Hello

The garbanzo bread, sliced. Look at that lovely dense crumb - perfect for sandwiches. Posted by Hello

A rustic sourdough rye. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 07, 2005

Photo Shy 

Manager is a photo shy person, as difficult to photograph as our Finance Director was - I got his picture only because he was distracted by the Tri-Mushroom Soup.

But I extracted a promise from her to do a photography session this weekend, so her picture and bio can be linked from the sidebar the way our Finance Director's is.

Plus, we'll scan more Cracked Cauldron art for the Cafe Press Store, and one of the things we'll see if we can do is make aprons with recipes on them!

We're still waiting to hear back from the owners of that building we want to lease, and still searching for a commercial kitchen that's not otherwise in use on the dates we need one.

Manager's A drive went out on her primary computer, so until we can find a replacement floppy drive, she has to use my computer. And much gnashing of teeth is heard, because she doesn't like my computer.

Look for photos and more this weekend.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Our Finance Director 

John DeLaughter, sampling the Tri-Mushroom Soup

John DeLaughter was born in Portland, OR. He lived there for two
weeks before deciding that he didn't like the weather, and moved his
family to Oklahoma. As a semi-native Okie, he naturally went to the
University of Oklahoma for both his B.S. (in Physics, 1985) and his
M.S. (in Geophysics, 1993). Between the two degrees, John worked as
an educator at Omniplex Science Museum, where he was better known
as "Professor M. Possible". After finishing his Master's thesis on
Oklahoma earthquakes (yes, they do have them), he moved to Chicago,
IL, to attend Northwestern University. He received a PhD.
(Geophysics) in 1998 for a tome entitled "Evolution Of The
Lithospheres Of Earth And Venus: Studies In Geoid, Topography And
Heat Flow" (his advisors firmly rejected "Adventures in Geophysics,
or The Geology of Interesting Places"). After graduation, he joined
Chevron (now ChevronTexaco), which has sent him to work in Indonesia,
Nigeria, Angola, Canada, California, and Louisiana. While in
Lousisiana, he earned an M.B.A. in International Business from the
University of New Orleans - and made a profit while doing so. He has
written 25 presentations and abstracts, 11 peer-reviewed articles,
and three books. He has studied whale calls in the Pacific, coronae
on Venus, volcanoes on Mars, the thermal budget of the Earth, seismic
attributes of Gulf of Mexico oil fields, the AVO response of West
African reservoirs, and the effect of leverage on profit ratios. He
enjoys cooking, reading, obscure rock bands, and sailing. He has been
the Cracked Cauldron's Finance Director since its incorporation.Posted by Hello

Beef Pot Pies 

I can only share the pre-baked and post-baked pictures with you - the pies were eaten before I could get a picture of the filling.

Adding cheese to the pie crust made a big difference in the flavor of this southwestern flavored beef filling (it was stew yesterday), but I think next time, I'm using 2 different kinds of cheese - a really sharp cheddar and the pepper jack again - with more chopped jalapenos. The crust was good, but a touch on the bland side.

The filling, just imagine it since I didn't get pictures, was packed with meltingly tender cubes of beef that started as a rump roast, seasoned with a mirepoix of onions, garlic, celery, and carrots. To this was added 3 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, cubed, 2 pounds of carrots, cut in half moons, 1 pound of corn kernels, 1 pound of petit diced tomatoes, a can of tomato sauce, 8 ounces of chopped jalapenos, thyme, oregano, basil, sage, bay leaves, mixed peppercorns, parsley, and a generous splash of Maggi.

That simmered until it was tender and yummy, then served up with a sourdough rye bread and sweet butter. It was devoured by several young men who just happened to drop in - friends of the family.

Fortunately, they left enough of the stew to make those pot pies.

I made the stew specifically for turning into pies, as I wanted to test a cheese based pie crust for savory pies.

Now, I have to make another pot of stew so I can fine tune the pie crust recipe.

Beef Pot pies with a pepper jack cheese crust, ready for the oven. Posted by Hello

The Beef Pot Pies baked and ready to eat. Posted by Hello

Beloved Guinea Pigs 

As a Thank You to all our beloved Guinea Pigs who've sampled our food and given us important feedback on the recipes, we're creating a BlogRoll just for you.

Well, those of you who have blogs, anyway, and don't mind being linked from here.

Most of our guinea pigs were drawn from colleges around here. Contrary to popular belief, college students will not eat "just anything". They can be pretty picky eaters, and they know what they like to eat.

That means they aren't likely to discuss Food Porn[1] on their blogs the way we do here. They may not even talk about the Cracked Cauldron in their blog at all.

That's not the point.

We like these people, we've made friends with them, and they like our baked goods and soups. These people have bravely, willingly, eaten food we give them, trusting it to be at least edible. They've even eaten things they normally dislike, just because we gave it to them. And when it was a disaster, they still tried the next thing we offered.

How can you top that?

We couldn't.

So, instead, we're going to link their blogs and let you get to know these people, too. Aren't you the least bit curious about the sort of people who will eat something unknown just because I ask them to?

If I've ever shoved an amorphous brown lump at you and asked you to taste it and you write a blog that I don't already know about, tell me, and I'll add you to the roll.

Yes, it counts if you were given something at the OU Medieval Faire last year (orange cinnamon rolls, Scottish Eggs, Banbury Tarts, or one of several loaves of bread). We'll be at MedFaire again this year (with or without our own booth - we're working on that), and you can sample more goodies.

MedFaire isn't the only place we've distributed our goodies, so if you sampled any of our goodies anywhere (mostly around Oklahoma City, but we shipped some off to others, too) - and you have a blog! - let us know the URL of your blog and we'll add you, too.

And if you don't have a blog, what are you waiting for?

[1]HeHe! We were sent Food Porn Star buttons by some of our Guinea Pigs. I think being a Food Porn Star is much better than being any other kind of star.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Committee Meeting 2005 

Over lunch, we held a year-to-date and goals meeting.

We have enough funds left to operate for 2-3 months, so we need to step up some of the things we've been doing.

Our first priority at the meeting was to list everything we've accomplished to date.

For your edification, here is that list, sort of in chronological order. Some things happened over an extended period of time and are mentioned more than once if there was significant change in details. Others began at one point and ended weeks or months later - those are mentioned at their conclusion because the end result was a foregone conclusion.

In the beginning was the Idea. Manager hosted a party of friends and plied them with baked goodies. As they sat around, many of said, not for the first time, "You should sell these cakes/cookies/muffins/pies."

Manager had a friend who, a year earlier, had offered to invest in opening a coffeehouse, and the women who wanted to do it never committed. Manager mentioned this to her friends, who were all enthusiastic about her opening a coffeehouse.

Over the following weeks, the Idea evolved from a simple coffeehouse to blend with other goals Manager had about helping the working homeless and became, in time, a full fledged bakery with a way to provide information and food to the working homeless people of her city.

She did some research, and took a few college classes that would help her in her quest to open this unnamed bakery. Friends and family offered support, mostly of an emotional and informative nature.

As time passed, her commitment to the idea grew, and she began to hone her skills, testing recipes and tracking down family specialties from Germany.

As the Idea became more feasible, she read books about how to start your own business, and talked things over with her college professors, and professors from other departments. All encouraged her to continue, offering advice and more information while critiquing her baking skills as they ate her cakes and cookies.

Finally, she committed to buying books on the baker's trade and talking with bakers on how to do this.

The Idea had evolved to the point that it needed a name.

Manager tried out various names, some cute, some alliterative, some truly odd. But she kept coming back to the concept of feeding the homeless with part of the proceeds of her bakery and the old stories of the never-ending cauldron of soup. The cauldron assumed a central place in her quest for a name.

In her childhood, she was a part of historical re-enactment groups for the black powder days - and her family had an old cauldron large enough to fed the whole camp. It had a crack in it, but it still held enough food for everyone. That cauldron and the memories of the endless laadles of soup coming out of it became the symbol for her dream of opening hte bakery and feeding the hungry - and so the name Cracked Cauldron was born.

With a name, it was suddenly real.

In October of 2003, she decided to proceed with opening the Cracked Cauldron Bakery. The last semester in college, she offered to cater parties for friends, classmates, and college organizations, and gained a great deal of support and a slew of willing guinea pigs to sample her recipes.

As soon as her college career ended, she was ready to start.

She incorporated as a Subchapter S Corporation, opened a business checking account with a small investment from her family, and contacted the Small Business Administration.

She took a number of their seminars and classes on start-ups, was directed to the Women's Business Center for financial counseling, and hired a CPA to help her with taxes.

Her Finacial Director came on board about this time and invested in the business, as well.

She attended a Bakery COnvention and met other bakers in the industry, both small specialty bakers such as herself and large commercial bakers like the representatives from Pepperidge Farms. She also met suppliers and narrowed her choices on equipment she could inspect in person. She chose a Point of Sales system she felt would be best for her business and got to preview a lot of software related to her business. At the end, she was convinced she really could do this, she had the skills, the knowledge, and the support to move forward.

Her Financial Director lent her the coursework for an MBA and helped her set up her spreadsheets and cashflow plans. With his help, she set up plans for different levels of opening, everything from the ideal full service bakery down to the barebones coffeehouse.

Armed with this information, she applied for business loans for the high end of what she wanted to do. After two rejections, she went back and reworked the spreadsheets.

During this time, she was taking tours of bakeries in the neighboring states, to see how they functioned and what she could apply to the bakery she wanted to open. One of those tours took her to Boston and back, and netted her a lot of useful information, including ideas on how to open the bakery with far less than she'd originally visualized. The bakers in Ohio and Pennsylvania were exceedingly helpful and generous.

She returned from the last research trip filled with renewed hope and made a third application for a business loan. This was also rejected.

Instead of giving up, Manager re-evaluated what she was planning to do and how to accomplish it under other circumstances.

During all of this, she was busy building her unique collection of recipes, from a Chocolate Chai cake to a baklava cheesecake, cinnamon snap cookies, and cream scones, Bacon Bread and a line of delicious sourdoughs with starters gifted by other bakers. She also learned a lot about coffee, and began a time of taste-testing coffees from several specialty roasters.

As part of her membership in professional organizations: the Bread Baker's Guild, the Specialty Coffee Association of America, and the Personal Chef Network, she gained much valuable information.

As she found them, mostly in antique shops, she collected specialty cookie cutters and baking forms and other necessary smallwares. Friends gifted her with more cake forms, cookie cutters, professional measuring devices, and so on. A friend who is a professional knifemaker gave her a set of knives forged to her specifications. Another friend designed her logo for her and other artwork.

She learned how to talk to realtors and how to inspect properties with an eye towards her needs, and made friends with a few bankers.

She began advertising - even though she didn't get a loan on her third attempt. As part of this, she purchased software for designing web pages - which is in the works, as she hasn't yet gotten the data needed to upload to the host service which is supposed to be part of the purchase of the software.

She didn't open in October 2004, as she hoped, but that was her best estimate, if everything went perfect.

In November, she had a dinner meeting with her Board of Directors to discuss how her first year had gone, and what they could do for the second year.

She ended her first year in the black - not a bad thing at all for a new start-up that hasn't even opened its doors yet.

After that Board Meeting, she set up a PayPal account and a Cafe Press store to market her logo and begin awareness of her brand. A calendar was planned, but uploading difficulties prevented it from being ready for the beginning of the year (it's still in the works).

The book detailing the first year of opening a bakery is currently making the rounds of publishers.

Manager is looking at a new location, smaller and closer to a college, and has reworked her information to open as a coffeehouse first, with lots of room for expansion. She expects to hear back from the owners any day now.

Instead of opening as the full line bakery, with $30,000.00, she'll open as a coffeehouse that will expand into becoming a bakery quickly.

Manager will be contacting her suppliers and opening working accounts with them.

If she gets the lease for the property, she can be in business in 6-8 weeks.

Other plans in the works are having a booth at the OU Medieval Faire in the neighboring city, and possibly a booth at the Festival of the Arts downtown. These will both generate some income, but their promary purpose is to market the bakery. And both are contingent upon finding a commercial kitchen that is available to rent for the days needed for the events.

And that, Dear Readers, is where the Cracked Cauldron is today.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's 

We've made a lot of progress over the past year towards opening the Cracked Cauldron, even if we aren't open as we'd hoped and planned.

We've learned a lot about starting a business and how very different that is from running a business.

Running a business, from this side, looks very simple in comparison.

Sure, we'd have to be aggressive in marketing, scrupulous in crafting our products, and friendly even to the touchy customer just looking for some fight or other. We'd have lots of things to keep track of and to account for and be busy beyond belief. We'd have to watch the bottom line and stay in the black. Wastage and spoilage would be high on our list of things to worry about.

But we could do that.

The accountability and marketing and cash flow and product quality assurance and the overflow bounty for the homeless, this is all planned for, studied for, easy to implement.

Seeking the final funding to open the business end is the part we're falling down on.

But let's not dwell on that just yet. It's important, it really is, but let's review what we have accomplished this year first.

We created an entire portfolio of unique and special recipes, from Hot Drops to Chai Roses, collecting a very loyal and eager set of customers.

We discovered some pitfalls of expecting professionals to behave professionally, and now know to get even the teensiest thing in writing.

We made friends with a lot of really wonderful people, on line and off, and discovered that people are eager to help and to share their expertise.

We discovered an amazing number of people who are looking to us to be an example of what can be accomplished - and we feel a bit like we're letting those people down because we didn't meet our original tight goals.

We learned how to do a proper spreadsheet and cash flow analysis.

We learned just how much we could accomplish in a given amount of time.

We discovered that learning to make the wheel , for us, was as important as being able to use the wheel when it's done. In actual terms, this means that we discovered that shortcuts may be nice, but for in depth understanding of our business, we needed to know the littlest details. There are a lot of details in opening and running a bakery.

We discovered that we knew virtually nothing about the beverage end of the business - and have learned interesting things such as Fair Trade and Organic coffees, cupping, tea-tastings, and soda quality control. We discovered facts about the dairy industry we'd never imagined.

And we made friends with ahuge number of local suppliers - dairy and cattle farmers, hog farmers, chicken farmers, wheat farmers, flour mill owners, the Mushroom Man, and found some amazing cheeses made in our own state.

We toured wineries and discovered some great local wines we intend to use in the crafting of our stews.

Our suppliers will be more than providers of ingredients - many are well on the way to becoming friends.

We learned more than we'll probably ever need to know about commercial real estate and tax laws.

We learned that we could pinch a penny so hard it gave change back.

I doubt you can find more frugal business owners than we'll be. We are excellent at scrounging and refurbishing and adapting to changing circumstances.

We plan to continue this venture in the coming year by expanding our marketing base. Odd, isn't it, to market a store that isn't open yet? Anyway, we began that by opening a Cafe Press store - the link is in the side bar. The few things in there will be expanded in the coming days - adding aprons and T-shirts to the mugs and coasters.

The calendar wasn't ready for this year after all - some weird bugs with uploading the graphics that haven't been resolved yet. I'm not sure if the problem is on our end or the publisher's end, and neither are they, but we're working on it.

We're looking for another location, one that is affordable on a reduced budget, and are looking at opening in a smaller way than initially planned.

We're looking at having a booth at a few specific events - MedFaire, the Festival of the Arts, and a few others.

We have a book in the works that gives all the details we've not posted - the spreadsheets with errors, and the corrected ones - guess what our biggest clerical error was? And pictures that didn't make it to the blog and recipes as they evolved and the stories behind them, along with guinea pig comments.

We are looking at offering cooking classes at a local college in their continuing education department.

Much as we want it all to happen now, we realize that unless you inheret lots of money, win a big lottery, or have a rich sponsor, that isn't going to happen.

It's going to take work, lots of hard work. And time. More time than we'd first estimated.

The delay, while it chaps us, is probably good for us. We learn new things all the time, and discover fixes for problems we hadn't realized existed.

So the coming year is another chance to open our doors at last.

And y'all are all invited to the Grand OPening when it comes.

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