New Art and Renegade. Kablammy!


It’s time again for the “summer” Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco! Bundle up and come on out to Fort Mason. I’m in booth 137, right down the center aisle.

It should be a great time, and you can see some new Drywell Art for the first time in person. Consider this a sneak preview:



Making Chocolate with Dandelion

dandelion sketch eatretreat

How to Make Chocolate. © Alyson Thomas 2014

During the Eat Retreat weekend, our days were filled with food demonstrations, information sessions, and how-tos. One of the highlights was helping to make chocolate, from the cacao beans to bar, with the affable Todd of Dandelion Chocolate. They quite literally travel the world in search of the best cacao beans, which they then turn into chocolate bars at their factory on a now-hopping stretch of Valencia Street in San Francisco. What really makes this chocolate mind-blowingly awesome to my now blown-mind is that Dandelion only uses cacao and sugar in their delicious bars. No added cocoa butter, milk solids, or stabilizers.  Todd schlepped up some chocolate making equipment to do a small-scale demo of the chocolate making process for Eat Retreat. And since I draw food and such, I took notes like this:

Photo by Jen Pelka

Photo by Jen Pelka

Todd had us sort through the beans, discarding any oddballs or debris. Then the pile of beans was placed into a coffee roaster, and then into a toaster oven. This cracks the beans, allowing the outer husks to be removed from the nib. While the beans roasted, Todd passed around samples of three of their single-origin bars. I was one of the few fruity chocolate fans in the room, so I adored the Madagascar bar.  It had a lot of citrus flavors, with one attendee comparing it to a lambic beer. Dead on. And with an insanely long finish. (Immediately upon my return, I picked up a bar for Steve, who declared it “absolutely the best chocolate I have ever had.” So there’s that.) It was fascinating to have such different flavors of chocolate, all just coming from the beans and the fermentation process. At their cafe in San Francisco, you can get flights of brownies, each using a different chocolate varietal.

Photo by Lauren Chandler

Photo by Lauren Chandler

After roasting, the now amazing-smelling beans were cracked in a small grain mill used by home brewers. The papery husks were removed in a process called winnowing, using a shop vac. After that,  the beans are ground in a melanger for several days, with sugar eventually added in. This makes the final chocolate bar, after it is tempered and left to cool.

Photo by Lauren Chandler

Photo by Lauren Chandler

Photo by Lauren Chandler

Photo by Lauren Chandler

Photo © Jesse Friedman.

Photo © Jesse Friedman.


There are an insane amount of other details and variables that go into making chocolate as delicious as Dandelion’s – like where and how the cacao plants are grown, fermentation techniques at the farms, and roasting methods – but Todd showed us the basic process of bean to bar. For more info on all the other fascinating stuff, check out this article by fellow Eat Retreater and chocolate fanatic, Lesley Stockton.

They explain the process beautifully over at the Dandelion Chocolate site, and if you are in San Francisco, you can even go on a free tour, like a modern-day Charlie Bucket. And if you’re really into chocolate, you can even make a small-batch of your own chocolate with Dandelion or go on a cacao buying trip.


friday o’clock : salt-preserved mezcalrita


Cheers! Jen + Leslie. Photo by Vincent Ricchiuti

Two weeks ago, I was walking  fields with Doug of the Mendocino Grain Project, learning more about wheat varietals, dry-farming and grain milling that I ever thought I wanted to know.  It was just one part of a food nerd paradise weekend called Eat Retreat. I was lucky enough to be one of the 35 or so attendees chosen to attend the 3-day retreat. All attendees are food professionals of some kind, most being chefs or food makers.   The days were filled with workshops, demonstrations, and tastings, all which will get their own recap to come.

Prior to arrival, we were put on meal or happy hour hour teams, and no one will be surprised which one I ended up on. My teammates for the weekend were Dafna of Inna Jam and Tammy of Spice Hound. We were graciously provided white rye, gin, and mezcal to concoct libations. On Saturday, we made three cocktails: Aperye Spritz, Gin + Tonic, and the Salt-Preserved Mezcalrita. The latter two were served up creekside, for an impromptu happy hour that was so beautiful that it verged on Kinfolk-twee. 


Riverbed bar tending. Photo by Leslie Lindell.

bar setup

On the bar, lovely rimmed glasses waiting. Photo by Leslie Lindell


The menu. Photo by Leslie Lindell.

The idea for the mezcalrita came together quite nicely. Many mezcal cocktails are mixed at home from my extensive collection, smuggled back from Oaxacan roadside mezcal distilleries a few years ago. And a friend of mine had made a Moroccan margarita a month ago for our Mediterranean mash up progressive dinner party, using salt-preserved lemons. Then Dafna mentioned she had a bunch of preserved Meyer lemon brine from her lovely preserved meyer lemons. Boom. We were in business.  The end result was pretty killer. Very balanced; smoky, slightly sweet, salty, sour, and a touch spicy from the piment d’ville and sal de guasano. Goes down easy, especially when you’re lounging on a riverbed.

Salt-Preserved Mezcalrita

I highly recommend using Inna Jam preserved lemon brine for this. Dafna uses a minimum amount of salt in her preserved lemons, which adds just the right saltiness to the syrup. Other preserved lemon brine might end up too salty. If that’s your only option, add less brine to the syrup mixture. 

You likely don’t have sal de guasano in your pantry. That’s ok. Substitute a mixture of a cayenne or other hot pepper and salt. You’ll miss the umami of the caterpillar larvae, but you’ll survive. It is also available online. Or just skip it entirely, and rim the glass only with the lovely fresh Piment d’Ville – a locally grown version of the obsession-worthy piment d’esplette.

2 oz joven mezcal

1 oz lime juice

1 oz preserved lemon syrup* (recipe below)

sal de guasano (in small bowl)

piment d’ville (in small bowl)

lots of ice

Dip the rim of glass in lime juice. Then dip one side in sal de guasano, and the other side in piment d’ville. Plop in some ice cubes.

In a shaker, combine mezcal, lime, and lemon syrup. Fill with ice and shake until your hand is freezing. Strain into your cold, rimmed, glass. You can easily make up to 3 drinks in one shaker, as I did while playing bartender for the thirsty Eat Retreaters.

* To make preserved lemon syrup, combine 1 part sugar with 1 part hot water. Stir until sugar dissolves. You can also boil the whole lot together on the stove, but it’s not necessary. Once sugar is dissolved, add 1/2 part brine reserved from the preserved lemons. You might as well make a big batch of this and store in a jar in the fridge. Or beg Dafna to start selling it.

And of course I had to do a diagram….


Love letter to Japantown, San Francisco

mochi painting

mochi painting from my sketchbook

I’m not exactly sure when my love/obsession with Japan began. I know that I had Japanese import versions of ska CDs before I ever tasted sushi. The fact that Steve loves Japanese pop culture as much as I do certainly fuels our joint fascination. I love the food, the culture, the design, the art, and the uniquely foreign perspective forged from years of isolationism. Really everything. We’ve been fortunate enough to get to travel to Japan twice, and hope there are many more trips in our future.

For the past three years, I have been part of a business group, made up of creative entrepreneurs and makers. We all met at various craft shows in the Bay Area and have been meeting once a month for years, to share resources, vent our frustrations, and give advice to each other. And this year, we started a little blog, sharing a little business advice, some recipes from our monthly meetings, local retailer interviews and our favorite spots in the Bay Area. I recently wrote my own little love letter to Japantown in San Francisco. Hop on over and discover my favorite places to eat and shop in one of the few remaining Japantowns in America.

And if you want to amp up your own obsession with Japanese food, may I suggest the multi-volume, hilarious food manga series Oishinbo (available at Kinokuniya and UmamiMart) and the funny food memoir Pretty Good Number One, about a young American family living and eating in Tokyo for a month.

Negroni Week is almost over!

negroni shoot

Sponsored by Imbibe Magazine and Campari, Negroni Week is an opportunity to drink for a cause. Participating bars donate $1 of each Negroni sold during that week to a charity of their choice. The amazing staff of Imbibe, who happen to be big fans of my Negroni diagram, reached out to me, and I am so psyched to be the only non-bar, non-restaurant to participate this year!

For every Negroni print ordered between June 2 and June 8, I will donate $2 to The Food Pantry in San Francisco. I’ll also donate $1 for any other print ordered from June 2 – 8. So, order up and help a great cause! Check out the Negroni Week website for a list of bars in your area that are participating as well.

And if you are REALLY into Negronis, you can make your love permanent.


Turkish breakfast


Oh Turkish breakfast, how I have missed you!!

For my first breakfast in Istanbul this trip, I visited Piraye Kahvalti Restaurant in Kadikoy ( the “asian side” of Istanbul). It was recommended by several food nerdy websites, but I was convinced to go when I saw they offered an Izmir breakfast set. Izmir is on the Aegean coast of Turkey and the cuisine is characterized by an ample use of local produce and fresh, wild herbs and vegetables. The Aegean Coast of Turkey is one of my favorite spots in the country so far, and I was looking forward to having some of the same great dishes Steve and I shared when we spent time in Ayvalik last year.

This breakfast set (15 Turkish Lira, about $5) came with the standard sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, two types of olives, and bread of most Turkish breakfasts. It also had a couple of slices of white cheese from Izmir, olive oil with herbs, pepper paste with walnuts, crumbled cheese with walnuts, poppy seed paste, and a fresh fragrant “gypsies salad.” The salad was a tumbled mix of crumbly cheese, small chunks of tomato, peeled cucumber and raw zucchini, topped with a mound of a variety of herbs, including dill and parsley. Super refreshing. Add in several cups of the ubiquitous tea and the whole heysap came to 19.50 Turkish Lira (about $9.25). A steal.

Guess Who’s Back?

Bar towels! These sold out SO. FAST. over the holidays, but now they are back in stock in the old shop. I’m using a different printer and towel this time, and I think the quality is even higher! Smooth, unbleached cotton towels, printed in the USA.

Japan Recap

hanami edit

Hanami at Yoyogi Park

Yes, we’ve been back from our trip for awhile, but man, I have caught the Japan bug again. Big time. This was my second time in Japan and I’m kind of ready for a third time around. There is just so much to see, discover, and eat and always in such a pleasant and sensible atmosphere.

Days in Japan:  19

Cities Visited:  Tokyo, Takayama, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and a relatively unmemorable suburb of Osaka.

Most days in one city:  Fukuoka, where we spent 10 days.

Best money spent:  Every single yen spent on food. The Japan Rail shinkansen passes. Our one night in a ryokan in Takayama, complete with semi-private onsen bath.

Favorite Japanese hotel chain:  My Stays, hands down. Larger than most (relatively speaking) and most clever use of limited space. Also, a desk and chair. Score.

tail yakitori

bonjiri (tail) yakitori at Hatchibei, Fukuoka

hide beef

Hide beef on a magnolia leaf. A local speciality, served at our ryokan in Takayama

yaki onigiri

Yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls) with shiso leaf at Hatchibei, Fukuoka.

seared sushi

Plate of sushi, including seared sushi, from Sushi Maru at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo.

Favorite dishes:   Tsukemen ramen from Rokurinsha at Tokyo station. Chicken tail and pork belly yakitori at Hatchibei in Fukuoka. Seared salmon at Sushi Maru at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

Worst food : This is tough. Nearly everything we ate was amazing. Probably the worst was the random sea snail, in shell, in my train station bento box. It tasted exactly like you’d expect a sea snail to taste.

Favorite places to get food:  Train stations, department stores and convenience stores. Was this the best food? Sometimes, not always. But I could always easily get what I wanted without too much of a language barrier.

What I missed out on doing this time:  Tea ceremony, visiting cocktail bars in Tokyo (boo illness), and eating at a yatai in Fukuoka. Fukuoka is one of the few places in Japan where street food is still allowed. The yatai are temporary street food stalls that open at night all around the city. They typically specialize in one type of food.

Number of bowls of ramen (NOT including tsukemen):  12

Number of bowls of ramen, including tsukemen:  14

Number of times extra noodles were ordered:  3 (twice for steve, once for me)

ramen montage

Just a few bowls of ramen. Top left, clockwise: Tsukemen dipping noodles, spicy miso ramen, tonkotsu ramen with mizuna, black garlic tonkotsu ramen, Hide beef ramen, and super orderly ramen from Ichiran.

ramen stadium

Our favorite ramen in the Ramen Stadium at Canal City, Fukuoka.

tiny gyoza

Teeny tiny gyoza, served everywhere ramen is served in Fukuoka. Often comes with either hot mustard or yuzu pepper.

What I’ll miss:  Ubiquitous and orderly convenience store and train stations. Eating onigiri for breakfast. Matcha everything. Hot drinks from vending machines. Green Dakara (a vitamin hydration water). Ramen. What we have in San Francisco is generally crap compared to nearly every bowl I ate in Japan, especially in Fukuoka.

Most surprising:  The provocative dress of 80% of young females in Fukuoka. The prevalence of dachshunds. That most Japanese people could actually speak English quite well, but were often too shy to do so at first. Alcohol helped with this.

Least surprising:   How often we were excited to see something new, that we didn’t know existed.

yakitori grill

Yakitori grill master.

the doors sake

The Doors loved nihonshu?

tory highball

Tory’s whiskey highball. Classy stuff.

Beer situation:  Again, lots of lagers, like Sapporo, Asahi, and Orion. We went to a pretty cool craft beer bar in Tokyo, and managed to find some local brews in the hot springs town of Takayama. I was down with a cold for most of the trip, but once I felt better, I drank sake or Tory whiskey highballs.

Least favorite:  Hands down, the feeding time at the monkey park in Kyoto. It was super weird, yes, but panic-inducing for this devout monkey-hater. I think this was Steve’s favorite moment. And probably the favorite for our two friends Pete and Kimra who visited with us. Have I mentioned what a good friend I am?

Most frustrating :  Not being able to communicate with people OR easily read menus. The latter issue meant that we had to plan a fair bit more than we typically like to with eating. Wandering around trying to find a place that we could order at easily without English (typically yakitori, sushi or ramen) or searching for a place with an English menu was tiring and sometimes frustrating. Not being able to talk to locals was equally frustrating. Japan is an amazing country and I really would have loved to chat more with locals, especially at restaurants about the food. Not surprisingly then, some of my favorite moments were those that involved English-speakers.


girl at monkey Park

Favorite moments:  Hanami (the specific term for picnicking under cherry blossom tress during sakura season) at Yoyogi park on Sunday. Successfully finding Sushi Maru at Tsukiji, and having one of the best sushi meals of my life, all while the chumps were still waiting in line at Sushi Dai.

Our night out at Bar Oscar in Fukuoka, where we sidled up next to a nice Japanese business man, who turned out to not only speak English, but also worked for Suntory. We spent the next four hours chatting in broken English, buying us rounds of Suntory whiskies and American bourbon and showing us a photo album of his trip to the distilleries in Scotland with the bar owner, Shuuichi.

The insane Japanese businessman business card exchange we witnessed on our very last night in Japan, at a wine bar outside a suburban Osaka train station. We made a bee-line for the place after I saw that they had Blanton’s bourbon on the menu (technically it was “Branton’s Bourbon” on the menu). There was no menu, which meant we had to guess what kind of food they might be able to make us. We ordered a delicious om-rice and curry, and chatted with the bartender, sometimes in English, sometimes in French (he had been a sommelier in Paris for 3 years). After a bit, a group of businessmen trickled in to watch the opening home game of the Osaka Tigers. We’re not entirely sure what happened, but one guy was very excited to see the other and a 5-way business card exchange, replete with bowing, ensued.

 That sums up Japan. Totally confusing and completely charming. Thanks, Japan. You are awesome.
night out fukuoka

Our favorite Suntory rep.

There’s always room for more beer.

And epic beer posters. If you’ve followed me on Instagram in the last few months, you’ve probably seen several sneak peeks at some beer bottle watercolors I’ve been painting.


And painting.


And drinking and painting.


And then some more painting.


And then the formatting. And re-arranging.  And tweaking (but no twerking). And stifling of OCD tendencies.


And then FINALLY a little proofing and, heck, some more drinking time:


All for the huge piece of beer-love you see here:


Beer Hoarder. If you are into craft beer at all, you know one. You might actually BE one. Scooping up rare bottles at beer events. Stalking your local bottle shop for the next release. Waiting in lines for beer, like some perverse Soviet-era throwback. All to take your precious down to your basement, garage, cupboard, or cardboard box to let that bad boy get some age on it. Develop the funk. Yep, you’re a beer hoarder.

Actually, come to think of it, I’ve been doing a little bit of hoarding myself. I’ve been tinkering with this final piece for weeks now. And while it might be prudent to wait to release this baby into the wild until 2014, I just can’t bear to wait. Real artists ship. (Or so Steve constantly tells me.)

What I AM going to do is release a limited edition series of the Beer Hoarder print on 100% cotton fine art paper. And it is delicious paper, people. So thick and textured, it makes this print look every bit as good as an original. Limited edition of 100. Snatch one up here by Wednesday for Christmas delivery.

And because it is the holiday season and there are serious feelings of gratitude for all of my customers and supporters this year, I’m giving away  one of these limited edition prints! How can you win? Simply be the first to accurately identify every beer depicted. Easy, right?  Your list must be posted under the post on the Drywell Facebook page. I won’t tell you which ones someone misidentifies, only that they didn’t get them all right.

42 craft beers away from glory.

Hoppy Holidays.

xo, alyson



Bar towels are hot.

Super hot, apparently. I waited over two years to create and decide on a design, and in less than a week after putting them up for sale, they are almost gone. Yep, that’s right. My limited run of 100 bar/tea towels is almost sold out. (Men apparently don’t understand “tea” towels, but totally get “bar” towels. So there you go.)

So if you want one of these really freaking kick-ass bar towels to plop under your Christmas tree (or just to wipe up your spilled bourbon) you should grab one while they are still available.  I will clearly be printing more because I LOVE them, and so do other people apparently, but not until 2014. Consider this your PSA.

Cocktails before they became famous on bar towels.