May, 2011

The Unlikely Entrepreneurs

The New York Times this week has an article about the founding of Groupon–the discounts-are-better-with-friends web start-up that plans to go public soon, and is likely to be valued at somewhere around $25 billion. But the rags-to-riches plot behind Groupon isn’t what struck me today–rather, I was tickled by this little tidbit about one of the higher-up executives at Groupon:

Aaron With is Groupon’s editor in chief. The 29-year-old Mr. With has no journalism or marketing background: he worked for a Chicago nonprofit and, more relevantly, was once in a band with Andrew Mason, Groupon’s chief executive.

“People have grown numb to the elements of advertising that pander to their fears and hopes, that insult their intelligence with safe, bland approaches at creativity,” says Mr. With, who at nights and on weekends is lead singer in the band Volcano. “We’re mixing business with art and creating our own voice.”

Here’s the thought that entered my mind upon reading that paragraph: Is it just me or are more and more successful companies being founded by people who have no business founding companies? Certainly, ours is the age of the twenty-something billionaire– and I would argue it is also the age of the anti-professional, in which amateur videos are the funniest, personal blogs are more profound that tightly edited columns, and maybe, just maybe– ideas that come from real people, whose creativity grows organically from the real, actual fun they’re having, are the best and most lasting ideas.

Your trusty co-founder

The relevance here, of course, is that fact that 10,000 Licks is whimsical brainchild of Sarah Newberry, a music therapist, and me, Andi McDaniel, a journalist and web producer. Certainly, we have no special ice pop expertise. In fact, when I first had the idea for the business, I came up with a name–and a blog!–for it, well before I’d successfully made and eaten one delicious ice pop. The logic behind it all along has been “why not?”, and in the face of a never-ending gauntlet of licensing requirements, start-up costs, and other hurdles, “why not?” continues to be our guiding question. Some days, the answer to that question seems actually quite convincing. For instance:

Q: Why not?

A: Because you’d have to be an NSF-certified freezer, and pay for liability insurance, and rent commercial kitchen space, and find a source of food-grade popsicle sticks, and freeze copious amounts of berries, and, and….

Your fearless co-captain

But even in the face of those things, there is an element of fun, and whimsy, and most of all adventure, that I simply cannot resist about starting this business. On some level, it is almost more compelling by virtue of it not being particularly logical to be starting an ice pop business at a time like this.

At the end of the day, none of the answers to the question “why not?” sufficiently deter me. But even more importantly, I am haunted by that other driving question, which is: “If not us, whom?”

And let’s face it: the world needs more ice pops.

The Rhubarbeque Special

For six years running, some dear friends of ours have held an annual “Rhubarbeque,” at their Seward duplex, known affectionately as Fort Awesome (long story). The idea, of course, is to celebrate this sour and precocious spring vegetable (fruit?) with inventive dishes like Rhubarb Salsa, Rhubarb Steak Rub, Rhubarbaritas… you get the idea. I’m reminded of that scene in Forrest Gump when Bubba goes on and on about the various ways you can prepare shrimp (shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo…pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp…)

Well with this year’s RBBQ around the corner, I decided to take the popsicle route this year, and on Friday night, while the rest of you were out doing Friday night things, I whipped up this batch of Rhubarb Ice Pops.

Here’s our wildly productive backyard rhubarb patch. That’s Wendell there, guarding it fiercely.

Here’s a closer look. Look at all of that sweet and sour goodness, waiting to be transformed! I grabbed about 6 stalks of it and brought them into my laboratory (pronounced la-BOR-a-tory).

There was chopping.

There was boiling.

It doesn’t take long for rhubarb to fall apart into its own sort of self-made puree. So, I separated the liquid from the puree using a strainer, combined the puree with a basic simple syrup and some heavy cream, and voila! Rhubarbsicles!

Soooooo delicious! Next time around, I might use more rhubarb, and try cooking it with sugar or honey, rather than using a simple syrup, but for now, I’m quite happy to have 6 of these puppies awaiting me in the freezer. Yum!

Is Spring Edible? Chocolate Lilac Pops!

It’s hard to think of anything– a sound, a smell, an event– that captures the feeling of spring as gloriously as lilacs do. What is it about that smell?! It’s intoxicating, and in a way, maddening– I find myself burying my nose in the blossoms just to get closer to it, and yet, even that isn’t enough. I don’t just want to smell it, I want to BATHE in it– or maybe to eat it?

Thankfully, lilacs are indeed edible, and that was all the go-ahead I needed to turn them into popsicles. I mean, that’s what we do, right?

So here goes. It started with the crazily-blooming lilac tree in our side yard. Pardon the cell phone photo.

I grabbed some particularly fragrant blossoms, and brought them inside, to combine with water and sugar into a simple syrup.

The resulting syrup, after straining out the blossoms, was a dream come true. It was the essence of spring, in a pan, on my stove. Slurp.

I got lazy about taking pictures when it came time to make the chocolate base. But basically, I melted a dark chocolate bar in a pan with milk and cream. Then, I combined it with the simple syrup and poured it into the molds.

Twenty-four hours later, the Chocolate Lilac pops (limited edition!) were mine to enjoy. I don’t think we’ve quite figured out the right “Fudgesicle” consistency yet (pudding trials coming soon), since the thickest chocolate sank to the bottom on these, but I will tell you that the combination of “eau de lilac” and chocolate was memorable indeed. Yum, yum, yum. Spring, I eat you!

Sweet Corn Pops: Summer on a Stick

Let it be known that my very favorite ice cream flavor is Sweet Corn (Thank you, Tara’s Organic Ice Cream in Berkeley, CA). And my second favorite is Basil. And my third favorite is Green Tea. Sure, Vanilla’s great and all, but I simply cannot resist those ice cream flavors that take a taste, or a smell, that I adore, and capture it in the creamiest, most evocative way. I am a sucker for virtually any food I love, turned into ice cream.

So, it’s no wonder that I can’t get enough of our Sweet Corn pops, and when I say “can’t get enough,” I mean, that I am eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, sure, dessert.

Amazingly, my business partner Sarah, CAN get enough of the Sweet Corn pops– she loves the idea, and acknowledges that they’re super-tasty, but is much more loyal to Watermelon Mint. She’s also is in the “R & D” phase of developing a new Raspberry White Chocolate flavor (stay tuned), which while it sounds tasty, I can’t imagine could top Sweet Corn. Sweet Corn is my master. It is, as one Art Crawl reveler noted, like Summer on a Stick. (Actually said reveler was referring to our Strawberry Basil flavor, but I take artistic license here).

In any case, enough people have FREAKED OUT about how delicious the Sweet Corn pops are, saying things like “It’s the perfect balance!” and “It comes out of nowhere…I can’t believe how good it is” that we’ve decided it’s a keeper. Coming soon to a farmer’s market near you.

Now for a peek into the process of making them.

The chopping.

The Great Infusion.

The big close-up.