Saturday, December 15, 2007
Fear is one of those love/hate subjects for me, heavy on the hate. I've learned that fear can be a great protector - it's our primal fears that often keep us out of dangerous situations. I know there have been a few situations where that kind of gut instinct has kept me out of harm's way. But fear can also be a smothering blanket, like an overprotective parent who never lets his child out of sight. It's that kind of fear that I've grown to dislike and avoid. It's insidious, when you least expect it, the grasping fingers of fear come out to pull you down.
Today I declared my own personal war on wet-blanket fear. With vigilance, I plan to knock it down and never let it back up. It's the cautiousness that stops me when I'm just about to be a more authentic version of myself. It's fear of judgement or rejection that shackles me to stupid life patterns that get me nowhere. If I'd let fear win out, I would have never started this business, I would probably have stayed at one or another dead-end and senses-numbing job, always hoping for a big break, or perhaps the lottery.
I exaggerate for the purposes of making a point - I really don't think I've ever been quite so fearful, although there have been days. But how many people can relate to that? I think there are quite a few out there who still have a little spark of a dream, but fear of judgement, rejection, and failure hold them back.
It's my nature to be shy. I've written about my introversion before. But, is it possible to change from an introvert to an extrovert? Is it possible that the fear drained my energy, and not the social interaction? I think I'll find out soon enough. My war on fear starts today. Today is the day that I analyze every negative thought and banish it, because it comes from an unproductive place of fear, and I've got no room for unproductivity. That's right, unproductivity, it's a new word, I've just made it up. Today I jump, and trust that the net will be there before I land. And if the net isn't there, then there's probably a good reason, and I'll figure it out, instead of blaming the roadies.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I've been a busy chocolatier, working on making new contacts, and finding influence and encouragement in places I've never been but can't wait to visit again. It's made me think about the people who've influenced my life the most, and how grateful I am that they did. There have been a lot of incredibly important people who've helped me become who I am, and who've allowed me to become a more authentic version of myself. But there were two who taught me to push past my self-imposed limits.
In the fall of 1999, I was a senior in high school. Our school was hosting the state student council convention, and my family hosted two delegates from another school. One of those delegates was a boy named Justin. Part of the duties of being a host family involved driving our guests around to the various activities. it was during these drives that Justin made his impact. He was very funny, and I spent most of those drives trying to concentrate on the road and not veer off into the side ditch from laughing. He'd also sing as loud as he could to whatever CD I had in the car. It's important for me to note that I was still very shy, quiet, and reserved. While I'd belt out songs in the safety of the solitude of my trusty 4runner, I'd clam up as soon as another person was with me. I don't recall when he called me out on my silence, the convention wasn't that long, but he convinced me to sing in the car with him. It was a seemingly small step outside of my comfort zone, but the lesson was that sometimes you have to jump before you know the net is below. Unfortunately, Justin was hit by a car and killed while crossing a campus street a few years later. I never saw him after that weekend, but I'll never forget him.
A few years after learning how to sing out loud in a car with strangers, I learned another huge life lesson. My second cousin was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002. She taught art in the local public school system for her entire career. When she found out about the cancer, she'd planned to teach one more year of school before retiring and enjoying herself. She was picking out new fixtures and appliances for her kitchen - something she'd never been able to do before, because she sacrificed her wants for those of her family. Pancreatic cancer is quick and deadly, it was never a fair fight. I learned two things from the time I spent with her, and there isn't a day when I don't consider them. First - what you put out is truly what you get back. She spent her life caring for and teaching children about art and being creative. No one was kinder. And that kindness reflected in the number of people who came to mourn her passing - people who passed through her life as children, people who knew her in the community. Second- don't put off what would be better done today. Some of the most important lessons have been reduced to clichés, but they deserve a second look - I'll always strive to get as much out of the time I have as possible. When I think of all the things I want to accomplish, and all of the people I want to help, I think of all of the things that she'll miss, and all of the people who won't have the benefit of knowing her.
More than anything, I wish these episodes from my life didn't end with a loss. The world needs more people who bring out the good in everyone they meet. I know I hope I can bring a fraction of that feeling to the people I encounter every day.
Monday, December 3, 2007
I promised a new flavor, and a new flavor you shall have. This little lovely comprises cranberries, the flavor of almonds, white chocolate and milk chocolate. Let's dig in a little deeper...
I started with sweetened, dried cranberries and plumped them with amaretto and a little water. Next, I made a smooth ganache with cream, white chocolate and more amaretto. I enveloped the whole thing in milk chocolate, and called it done.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I like it. I hope you do, too.
In other news...
The deadline for an on-time Christmas delivery is December 15 (for Priority Mail) or December 20 (for Express or Next Day). If you're ordering Chocolate of the Month (a fantastic gift idea, hint, hint), the gifts will begin in January, and you have until December 19 to place an order and have the card arrive on time for Christmas. Hanukkah begins next Tuesday, so if you need a gift in a flash, I'd suggest you place an order today or tomorrow!
There's another holiday flavor coming - cranberry cordial. Pictures and descriptions to come. In the meantime, if you'd like to add some cranberry cordials to your order, just add it in the comments section, and I'll set you up.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Maybe that's a little grand, but it's exciting stuff. There's a new flavor, just in time for Christmas, Peppermint Squares!
It's a dark chocolate ganache, blended with peppermint oil and chamomile tea, and sandwiched between two thin squares of chocolate. If I can stop eating them, you can buy them in the Holiday Box, the Stocking Stuffing, or the Haute Couture.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Also, don't forget to throw a LØVE Chocolate coffee mug or apron into the gift box. Come on, you know it's a great logo, go on and wear it.
Monday, November 19, 2007
Oh Kenny Rogers, you're a modern day oracle. Sometimes you really do need to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.
Nobody panic, the company isn't folding. But there have been a couple of experiences over the past few days that reminded me that every opportunity shouldn't be taken, every path doesn't need to be walked. I'll share one of them, the other one I'll keep to myself. Oddly enough, I'm going to share the personal experience and not the business one.
Last night, I was talking on the instant messenger to a guy I'd just met. The conversation had just gotten started, literally, we were about four exchanges in.
Him: "Hi, this is ****"
Him: "how are you?"
Me: "pretty good, and you?"
Him: "pretty good"
Him: "so are you cynical about men, too?"
Him: "it's a question..."
Me: "yeah, I'm familiar with questions, but why would you ask if I was cynical about men, too? That implies that I've already admitted to being cynical about something, which I haven't, because I'm not"
Him: "are you always so uptight?"
Him: "because you seem pretty uptight right now"
Me: "well, what?"
Him: "are you going to answer my question? Have I caught you at a bad time? Maybe you'd be in a better mood later"
(after a brief pause, where I considered my options and answered the phone - it was somebody I'd much rather spend time talking to)
Me: "I think we're done here."
Really. What was that? Was he trying some of that Mystery, pick up artist bull? (not familiar? let me enlighten you...) Was he that pathetically clueless about how to have a conversation?
I don't know, because I didn't stick around to find out. Sure, maybe I'm missing out on an opportunity to make a new friend, but if that's his first impression, can you imagine what's to come? Forgive me for wanting to miss out on hours of being corrected and having flaws magnified.
It's a lesson I'm learning in business as well as in personal relationships - not every opportunity is going to be helpful. It may seem obvious when it's written down, but I can assure you, in practice, it's not so easy. When your biggest dream is to have a healthy, growing business with a broad client base, the lines between colossal time wasters and genuine helpers gets a little blurry. The only thing I know that works is just as clichéd as you think - trust your instincts.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
I promised a more in depth story about chocolate sampling at the Weaver Street Market. After five(ish) hours of standing face to face with shoppers, I think I've identified a few distinct types of sampler.
The Enthusiast: approaches the display with gusto, intent on procuring a sample; tastes, appraises, responds accordingly (about 98% positive, in my case); proceeds to discuss all aspects of chocolate making, eating and buying.
The Frugal Nibbler*: tentatively tries a very small piece; quite surprised to actually be enjoying it; looks at the price and scurries away. (* there are two types of frugal nibbler, the one who checks the price and smiles while quietly backing away, and the one who checks the price and loudly declares "too rich for my wallet" or "I'll just stick to the samples!" and makes an exit)
The Multi-Sampler: walks up, tries one of each piece, and continues with shopping; approx 5-15 minutes later, reappears and attempts a look of innocence while trying two more pieces; upon making eye contact, the multi-sampler will often cite a child/friend/significant other on the opposite side of the store who just "has to try this" (it's ok, it's flattering, really)
The Analyst: before sampling, or while the chocolate is melting on his/her tongue, the Analyst will ask questions and inspect the ingredients list; my favorite analyst was a woman who said, "does this contain sugar?"
The Ghost: actually not a sampler at all, but an apparition-like shopper, intent on making only the pre-ordained purchases and getting out; the most notable thing about the Ghost is the ability to avoid eye contact, distractions, or the allure of chocolate.
As a lone chocolatier, I don't have a large group of people with whom I interact daily. It's pretty much just me and my infinitely helpful assistant/grandmother. Five hours of people watching was very much an information overload, but it was also lots of fun. I hope no one reads this list and finds it cynical - that wasn't my intention. Every single person who took the time to stop, sample and interact with me deserves some thanks. I realize that they were getting quite a payoff - free chocolate - but they were giving me the opportunity to share my business with them and potentially make a new client. The more contacts, the more sales, and the longer I get to keep doing what makes me happiest.
Monday, November 12, 2007
See where I'm going here? Get them a gift certificate!
You can either go through this button, or the buttons located on the store page or the products page.. The gift certificates are through PayPal, so your recipient will have to register to use it, but it's a quick and painless process, and the reward is chocolate. How could that ever be wrong?
Saturday, November 10, 2007
It's time for a nap.
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Last Friday, I sat down with Elizabeth Friend, who writes articles for the Weaver Street Market newsletter. It was more of a virtual sit-down, she was in her home, and I was in mine, but our cell phones connected us. We talked about chocolate and the beginnings of the business. Throughout the interview, my cat, Jet, put her two cents in. I'm really surprised that the article won't contain randomly spaced meows.
Elizabeth impressed me immensely with the quality of her questions. I realize that part of her job is to have interesting questions, but, it was my first interview about the company, so I didn't have any idea what to expect. I've seen the rough draft of the article; I had no idea I was so articulate! When it's out, I'll link it here, or paste it in (with permission, of course).
And now, back to chocolate!
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
In other updates - I'll be handing out samples at the Weaver Street Market next weekend (Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th). I'll be at the Southern Village location from 4:30-7pm on Friday, and at the Carrboro location from 11am - 2pm on Saturday. I haven't decided on the flavors yet - one will be Sea Salt Caramel, but the other one will be decided in the next couple of days, and I'll post it. I'm probably going to do the Sea Salt on both days, and a different flavor for Friday and Saturday.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
This post has absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. I thought I'd tell you that straight away. Instead, this is just one more blogger, venting about something in the news. I turned on the Ellen show this morning, expecting the usual funny monologue and morning dancing. Instead, Ellen was sitting in her chair, sobbing and distraught about a recent event in her life. You can read the full Associated Press story at the preceding link. Here's the gist of the story:
Ellen adopted a dog, spent lots of money having it vetted (including neutering) and trained. As much as she loved the puppy, it didn't get along with the other animals in her house, so she found it a home with her hairdresser. The hairdresser and her family (including two young girls) loved the puppy, and were giving it a loving home. So far so good, right? Well, Mutts and Moms (email them here[firstname.lastname@example.org] or mail them at PO Box 50393, Pasadena, CA 91115) gave Ellen a call to check on little Iggy's progress. She was honest, and explained the situation. Mutts and Moms has a clause in their contract that stipulates that dogs cannot be placed in other homes once they've been adopted, they've got to go back to the agency if an adopter feels they can no longer take care of it. [As a side note, the M&M website states that most of their dogs are boarded in kennels, at a cost of $300/month, the average cost of care for one dog is $1000 from street to home. At those rates, you'd think they'd be thrilled to place a dog with someone with the spending power of Ellen Degeneres.] Because Ellen didn't send the dog back to the agency, but instead found it a loving and happy home with someone she knows well, the good folks at Mutts and Moms decided the obvious solution was to uproot the dog. They sent a representative to the hairdresser's home and removed the puppy.
If we remove all emotion from this situation, what's left is utter stupidity. Puppies are designed to make us love them, they're cute and squeaky and fuzzy. It's hard to remove the emotion, but when you do, you see that a struggling non-profit had an opportunity to receive an injection of star power and publicity and, instead, decided to commit business suicide. I have no idea how many dogs they've successfully placed over the years, or if their business was making a difference to the animals of Los Angeles. What I do know is that now, instead of a happy family and a happy dog, they've made millions of enemies all around the country. I imagine that won't do very much to encourage people to adopt dogs from rescues, and that isn't going to help anyone. Way to go, Mutts and Moms.
Monday, October 8, 2007
It's been an eventful week. I took a brief vacation to visit a dear friend who's living in Florida. The drive down was long and tiring, but beautiful. I've never driven that far south, and it's really something to see. I imagine that if I had a more intimate knowledge of the back roads, there would be an even more stunning view of the South Carolina low country and Georgia. There's something about the wetlands just off I-95, it's something you'd never see from the oval window of a plane. There are long expanses of low grasslands, punctuated by bony trees, black and reaching out of the ground like something from a graveyard horror film. It just looks quiet there.
All that quiet gives one time to think, and I did a lot of thinking in the 14 hours I was on the road. In some ways, I think it prepared me for a rather upsetting interaction with a potential new friend (there is no potential left, now). I think a lot of people would benefit from a good long stretch of highway and time to figure it all out.
I used my highway to think about the way we interact with people. There are so many things that we've convinced ourselves we can control, even with the most superstitious of methods. The one thing we can definitely control is ourselves. I think if we focused more on our own actions, and less on trying to fruitlessly control other people's, we'd find that elusive patch of sanity and zen that everyone seems to be seeking.
I won't share the details of my upsetting interaction, they've got nothing to do with chocolate. But when immediately confronted with a situation where many people would use any number of ways to attempt to exercise control over someone else, I decided to put my thoughts into action. I realized that lowering myself, even incrementally, would be a futile attempt to manipulate the situation in my favor. So I didn't. I saw the truth for what it was, and thanked the messenger.
And then I erased his phone number.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Saturday was the worst day at the Inn. The maximum number of guests were booked in the hotel, and dinner was always heavy. My least favorite part of the whole day was one hour - the hour between 4 and 5 pm. Afternoon tea began at four and ended at five. If tea was busy, which it almost always was on a Saturday, all other essential work would stop while we loaded up trays with scones, cakes and little pots of clotted cream and lemon curd. I imagine the most frustrating part of it was not the loading up, or even tediously filling those pots with uncooperative condiments. The most frustrating part was walking into the dishwashing area and seeing the very same tea trays, still full, perhaps with a brownie missing, maybe a bite or two out of the scone, and those damned pots, still full.
It's not that the tea treats weren't tasty, quite the contrary, everything we made was really good, and it was hard not to eat it all ourselves. No, the problem was that in addition to 1 scone, 1 brownie, 1 cookie, 1 tartlet, and 1 piece of fruitcake, each guest also received a tray of sandwiches, each about 4 inches long and an inch wide. So add 1 egg salad, 1 roast beef, 1 salmon and dill, 1 cucumber, and 1 tomato and cheese sandwich to that list of food. Now serve it 1-2 hours before a big, expensive dinner that most of the guests had already paid for, and I probably wouldn't be too hungry either!
Picture a busy Saturday, a rushed tea service - mostly an exercise in futility as you now see, followed by a rush to complete all the production needs before service - most importantly bread, another story for another day - and you begin to understand why a Sunday was a great day for slacking off. More importantly, I think it may be a little more clear why it felt ok to slack off every now and again.
I've never been averse to hard work. And I think I've always tried to give the most I could to my employers. When you begin to realize that the work you're doing is mostly going directly into the trash, that's when it's hard to put your back into it so heartily. But just as I did then, the only thing to do (in my mind, at least) is to keep going, one foot in front of the other until the work is done.
The difference now is that I know everything I do has a reason, and isn't superfluous or wasteful. And that is indeed a big difference.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
I am thrilled to announce that LØVE Chocolate is now available at the Weaver Street Market Co-op! You can find it at both the Carrboro location and the Southern Village location . Expect to see me do a demo there sometime soon. Now I must rest a little, before starting some new flavors! More to come...
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
By this point, we've established that being outgoing and assertive doesn't come naturally to me. It's too bad, since those are very key personality traits when running a business. I've had to develop those skills over time, and sometimes I think I'm just one furtive glance away from exposing myself for the introvert I really am. It's never really occurred to me that I wouldn't just overcome those tendencies. The big secret to entrepreneurship, as far as I see it, is just that. It doesn't matter what sort of obstacle stands in your way, you must realize that, for your business to thrive, there is a way around it.
That doesn't mean that every problem will be neatly solved, or that every idea you have can be done. Sometimes the way around an obstacle is realizing that it's an idea that won't work, and finding a new direction.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Candied Apple Caramel - soft, milk chocolate covered caramel made with fresh apple cider and bits of candied apple
Pumpkin Seed Toffee - crunchy toffee with toasted pumpkin seeds, half dipped in dark chocolate
Ginger Spice Buttercream - warm fall spices with the zing of candied ginger in smooth fondant blended with creamery butter in a white chocolate shell
Marzipan Squares – a perfectly candied almond nestled in sweet almond dough, covered in dark chocolate
Orange Apricot Cream – orange buttercream with a touch of Grand Marnier, blended with sweet, tangy apricot pieces, in a dark chocolate shell
They're available in several different collections, so click through to the store and buy yours today.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
1. There is a new retail location for buying my chocolate. In about a month, you'll be able to stop by the Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, NC and pick up a box or ten. I'll even be there one day, meeting people and pushing product.
2. Construction is moving right along. This week, we put in the water line and the line to the septic tank, installed all the windows, and re-gravelled the drive. Pictures and stories to come.
3. New Fall Flavors are coming! By the end of the week, the seasonal chocolates will change. So if you've got a hankering for one more box of coconut creams, key lime creams, or banana creams, you'd better order before the 14th.
I'll post and update more tomorrow.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Hi, I know we haven't spoken, but I feel like we're very close. You've called when I am the most vulnerable, early in the morning before I've even thought about waking up. Yesterday you called after I'd had a particularly difficult morning, my horses had escaped their pasture and had to be rounded up. All I wanted to to was go back to bed and steal a few more hours before I faced my day. Did you know that it was stressful? Did you just want to call with words of encouragement?
Obviously, the line you're calling is for business, and one would think that it might be a landline, sitting in some office, ringing away at all hours of the day and night. I can understand that. What with the advent of answering machines and voicemail, sometimes it's more convenient to call when you think no one will be there; you can leave a message and get on with your day without all of that pesky chatter. But you don't leave me a message. Are you stalking me? Do you like hearing my voice? How can I assist you with all your chocolate needs, if you don't leave me a message?
Here's the deal, 919, it's not a landline. Perhaps when my ship comes in, and I'm in a permanent space (construction continues!), I'll have a phone that stays put. As it is, my business phone is a cell phone. It's very convenient, really. No matter where I go, I can answer my phone and remain professional during business hours. Sometimes I forget to turn it off after 6pm. To be honest, at this point, it really doesn't ring a lot. I'm not bothered, I just keep plugging along, and I know it will ring soon enough. In fact, it does ring every once in a while - but it's almost always a wrong number. If I'm away from the phone, and I come back to a missed call with no voicemail, I'm going to assume that it's a wrong number. Perhaps I should call them all back, but that seems a little bit like a waste of time. It usually goes something like this:
"Hi, who is this?"..."well, you called my phone, and I didn't recognise the number, and you
didn't leave a message so..."..."oh, wrong number, ok, thanks"
In closing, 919-###-####, if you do have business to discuss with me, please, please leave a message. Don't call me at 6am, or even 8 am, I'm not going to answer. Call me after 10, and if I don't answer, it's not because I don't love you, dear, dear 919, it's because I'm making chocolates and I can't come to the phone. So leave me a message.
And if, by chance, you have been dialing the wrong number for three days, maybe just check with the person who gave you the number. Perhaps they transcribed a digit and they've been waiting by the phone at 6am, just dying to hear from you.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
First up is Tom's of Maine Natural Toothpaste in Orange-Mango. As a person who depends on her sense of taste and smell (critical for a chocolatier), I have a very sensitive palate. My tastebuds get a little shirty if they're assaulted with extremes. For that reason, most of the commercial toothpastes out there are much too strong. I know it's weird, but the intensity of a lot of the mint-flavored products on the market will actually make my mouth a little panicky. There's a point after which I simply cannot stand it. Those strong detergents also have a charming ability to irritate my lips as if I'd been walking through the Arctic for a few weeks.
As I see it, I've got two options - stop using toothpaste (baking soda, anyone?) or find something more suited to my delicate kisser. Enter Tom, my new favorite man. Not only are their products made from natural ingredients, they taste fantastic. I chose the Orange Mango, and it's incredibly refreshing. My mouth has never felt so happy. The natural whitening ingredients also help keep my teeth shiny and bright, without the added sensitivity that I've found with other whitening toothpastes. I'm curious now to try some of the other flavors, although I think the Orange will be my favorite.
Funny enough, even with an orange toothpaste, it still tastes weird if I drink orange juice after brushing..oh well.
While indulging in my grandiose fantasies is a lovely way to wake up, I do have work to do. There are new flavors coming down the line. September 14 will be the last day to get banana cream, coconut, lime and mint flavored candies. They're moving out to make room for fall flavors:
The aforementioned Orange Apricot Cream will start out the lineup. Also in the works, Pumpkin Seed Toffee (the poll winner!), Candied Apple Caramel, Ginger Spice Buttercream, and Marzipan Squares.
In the next few days, I'll have pictures and descriptions ready to go, so check back soon.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Last Monday, I had a very nice date with a very nice boy. He lives near Charlotte, and as there's much more to do there, I drove down to meet him. Everything was fine until I tried to go home. That's when my personal life gave me a perfect metaphor for my business life.
As I pulled away from the movie theater, going back the way I came, I was certain that I knew how to get home. After all, I've been to that area many times, and I'm pretty good with direction. So, you can imagine my surprise when I somehow found myself going in the direction I came from. How? I have no idea. Somewhere along the way, I'd made a turn that put me back on the road to the theater. The business metaphor that this mirrors? Sometimes you think you're going in the right direction, only to end up where you started.
Luckily, I knew that the interstate was nearby. Driving on I-85 isn't my favorite thing in the world, but it was a safe bet to get back home. I spent about 10 minutes on the road before being overtaken by 10 big tractor-trailers. I probably haven't mentioned it before, but I drive a MINI. Normally the big trucks don't intimidate me too much, but when they're swarming your car, going about 80, they get scary. I thought I'd found my exit, so I got off the road quickly. Metaphor? If you feel like you're in over your head, try to find an alternate solution.
Not so luckily, I wasn't on the road I thought. Instead, I ended up driving through the business district of several small towns before finally (finally!) getting back on the road that would lead me home. There were a few moments when I thought I should turn around, and a few when I just wanted to give up (and do what? sleep in the car?), but I kept driving, and eventually found my highway. Of course, I did have the advantage of knowing where I was going, however vaguely. But the living metaphor for me was: Believe that you know where you're going. It may take longer than you think, but don't give up when you know you're right.
It was all a little hokey, and I apologize for getting all inspirational greeting card on y'all, but it was a message that rang true for me. This business is all a big adventure for me, and I'm sure if any of you are starting businesses of your own, you'll know that sometimes you just need a little reassurance.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
In all my travels, I've never encountered anything like the Carrboro Banshee. I hope to never encounter her or anything like her again. Short in stature, the Banshee is no less bold. She will strike without warning, and the intensity always varies. If you're lucky, you may only bear the brunt of a snide comment, usually a passive aggressive remark intended to darken your day. Be careful! DO NOT, under any circumstance, engage her OR ignore her. You must tread a careful line between the two. Thank her if you have to. Engaging her will result in more comments, escalating in severity until you have no choice but feel defeated. Ignoring her will ignite her sickly yellow eyes and result in piercing insults and babble, delivered in loud wails and screams that can be heard all through the kitchen and into the dining room.
These attacks can happen at any time. Her true nature may lie dormant for several days or even weeks until some unknown trigger tickles her ire. Much of her bitterness stems from her perception of powerlessness and mental torment at the hands of her superiors. This is no excuse for her behavior, the Banshee is advanced in years, despite her low position, and were she a normal woman, she would have more decorum. Her targets are more often women, although men are also susceptible. At present her whereabouts are unknown. She has been underground for more than a year, after a particularly nasty screaming match that resulted in her termination.
Locals should be on the lookout - her usual form is that of a short, middle aged woman with yellow-green eyes, a sallow complexion, and unruly, thinning red hair. Her voice is most easily compared with a sick and dying alley cat - whiny, high pitched and grating. As with the Monkey Man of Chapel Hill, caution should be taken not to engage her, lest you come away scarred for life. Sightings may be posted in the comments section, as we all should be aware of her location.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Next up is insulation. I have to say, I'm not looking forward to that. Originally, I planned to do the work myself, but the inspector suggested hiring a contractor. He told me that for the retail cost of insulation, I might be able to hire someone to do it all. This has some advantages, clearly, I don't relish the idea of wrestling with miles of fiberglass. I'm also interested in blown-cellulose insulation, which is something best left to the professionals. I'll be getting a quote for each.
While I was running around on Thursday, trying to get the electrician updated on the new changes to the outlet layout, my business line rang. I'd love to tell you that my business line is always ringing, that I'm considering hiring a secretary, but that is not yet my reality. In fact, most of my business line calls are wrong numbers. It's ok, I consider that one more little stab at word of mouth. Perhaps the next time, those wrong number people will call back with chocolate orders! So I answered the phone in the usual manner, but half expecting a wrong number. Instead of a caller looking for Theresa, I found myself on the phone with a fellow chocolate maker who runs a business out of Raleigh. I think he was scoping out the competition!
He had some supportive words about my website, and suggested that I join him and a few other local chocolate makers in a well known specialty foods store. (when I get in there, I'll tell you which one!). I really don't know how to take it. On the one hand, I can't help but be a little suspicious, after all, who is this strange man calling me up and asking all sorts of questions? On the other hand, I'd like to think that he really just wants to help out a fellow business person, and make the market more interesting by adding competition. I suppose time will tell.
Wednesday, August 8, 2007
Before CSI:Akron became the standard CBS weekly lineup, Scully was cutting up aliens and chupacabra victims and making it look cool. I wanted to be just like her. There was just one tiny snag. I am ridiculously weak-stomached when it comes to gore. It takes very little blood/needles/exposed insides to make me drop.
I was reminded of that fact this morning. I took my dad to the hospital for some orthopedic surgery. I was being quite cautious, I even left the room while they inserted his IV. Apparently, it doesn't matter. The mere suggestion of needles into skin was enough to make me feel a little light headed. I left for the waiting room to get something to drink. As I was counting out quarters, I felt it. The familiar sensation of blood rushing out of my brain crept in, and I looked for a chair. It's a funny feeling, the sense that you're about to faint. It's actually not completely unpleasant. The nausea is, of course, not great. But there's this other feeling, an opiate haze descending on your brain. All you want to do is sleep. And if you do close your eyes, it's got to be one of the best sleeps ever. The problem with closing your eyes and giving in to that sweet sleep, is that others find it a cause for alarm. I suppose there's something about a person just sliding off their chair and onto the floor of the waiting room that sends them running for the nurses.
Anyway, I didn't pass out, just came close. I asked for assistance, and a little water, and after a few minutes, everything was fine.
Monday, August 6, 2007
In other news, the kitchen construction continues...the new stairs and deck are in place. After the electrician finishes later this week, it will be time for insulation and drywall! Personally, I'm thrilled and repulsed by the drywall idea. Thrilled because it means that I'm much closer to being ready to move in, and repulsed because I've been studying up on the process, and it sounds like a pain in the ass.
Saturday, August 4, 2007
So I'm feeling a touch gloomy tonight, and I thought I'd cheer myself up and entertain my vast readership at the same time. I promised to tell the story of the monkey man, and I've yet to break a promise, so here goes...
The Monkey Man of Chapel Hill first appeared in late summer 2005, wearing rainbow sneakers and carrying a purse. After much ridicule and speculations about his still-suspect sexual orientation, he adapted to the local style of dress. Hulking and quick to anger, he stands at least 75 inches tall, but often hunches over to appear shorter. His arms are quite long, and they tend to dangle uselessly by his side when not engaged in taunting passers-by or stuffing his mouth with food. His hair has appeared shaved or wispy and long, and many variations in between - take note of the round bald spot directly on the crown, this is his main identifying mark.
Generally brooding, he is quick with a snide remark or poorly phrased or misinformed joke. Observers will note that failure to laugh at these jokes will result in confusion, followed by more brooding - approach with caution, the monkey man has been known to retaliate. Also, be advised that food in a 3 foot radius of the monkey man will be nibbled or eaten whole. Depending on the mood of the monkey man, the food will then be spit out, preceded by a face-contorting grimace of pain - or - consumed in larger quantities; therefore, adjust your recipes accordingly. One final note on the monkey man's eating habits - most foods deemed unsuitable will be classified as "split" or "hygroscopic". Please take note of these criticisms and disregard them after he has resumed a safe, 20 foot distance.
The monkey man has spent extensive time in captivity, and has learned many of the everyday tasks of humans. As such, he considers himself an expert in most matters and will attempt to correct you if he finds you doing one of the aforementioned tasks. Again, use caution, allow the monkey man to demonstrate his learned abilities from a safe distance, and then proceed with your work unharmed. Failure to do so may result in tantrums, ruined food, and lost time. He has also developed an extensive vocabulary, mostly gleaned from Richard Pryor videos and compendiums of curse words. Do not be surprised to hear multiple curses strung together in seemingly coherent sentences. Mirroring his behavior will only cause it to worsen, as will ignoring it. Try to keep an even temper, and again resume your safe distance of 20 feet.
All attempts to breed the monkey man in captivity for further research have failed. His animosity towards females of all species has been well documented. Scientists are currently searching for another male companion, preferably one who displays some of the same characteristics, in order to observe the monkey man's mating habits. All attempts thus far have been unsuccessful - the monkey man finds these attempts insulting, even as he secretly pines for a successful pairing.
In closing, please avoid the monkey man if at all possible. He is volatile, dangerous to your career, and generally unpleasant. Should you find yourself in close quarters, remember to stay calm, make no sudden movements, and agree with whatever he says until you are again out of the "danger zone" (20 feet).
*image is not an actual photo of the monkey man, cameras anger and fascinate him, which means you may take a photo, only to have your camera snatched away forever; the above image is of a close relative, Bigfoot (photo courtesy of http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://higginsforpresident.net/gallery/view/random/bigfoot.jpg)
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
I don't know how much of a secret it is, but one of the realities of being a chef (and probably any sort of creative person to some extent) is that no matter how confident you are in your abilities, there's a need for other people to like what you do. Artists often thrive on their outsider status, and usually it just takes a few of the right people to like something and the art world will follow suit - whether they really think it's good or not. Food is much more objective. Certainly there are tastes that aren't shared by everyone, but for the most part, it's pretty difficult to say good food is bad or vice versa - although some of the stronger smelling cheeses might give one pause. That leaves even the most confident chef at the mercy of someone else's tastebuds.
I consider myself very fortunate to have strong cooking skills and educated senses; I feel like I have a good idea of what tastes good to others. Still, every time I make something, every time I give a new person something I've made, I wait on pins and needles, hoping that they're going to like it. It's just the way it is for me. I don't ever want to be the sort of chef who turns out mediocre food because my overconfidence has kept other's opinions from penetrating my big head.
Monday, July 30, 2007
Things have been moving right along here at the chocolate factory. The electrician comes today to start wiring the kitchen. After he's done and everything has been inspected, it will be full speed ahead to the finish work, calling the plumbers back to install the fixtures, and moving in the equipment! This weekend, we put up the framework for the new deck (the location of the main door is being moved, which means a new deck and stairs, all to facilitate getting that big-ass refrigerated worktop unit inside).
When I need a little perspective on my project, I like to click over to the Dream Home Diaries at the New York Times website. If you haven't read it yet, you really should. It's infinitely frustrating and highly entertaining. Just don't neglect the comments - they're the best part. To give you a quick rundown: a middle aged couple are building their dream vacation and one day retirement home on a small island in Florida. So far, they've owned the lot for three years, their dream cottage has become a rather less-than cottage sized villa, and the price that they were hoping to pay has doubled (from $350,000 to nearly $700,000). It's fascinating stuff, and very useful for putting my tiny, self-financed project in perspective.
All of this really can't come fast enough for me, and let me tell you why. I had a meeting last week with a very popular market in the Triangle area. They loved the chocolate, and want to start selling it!! The only impediment is liability insurance - something I've been planning on purchasing. I've been waiting to insure the new kitchen, since that will be the start of higher volume sales (God-willing). So, as soon as the new space is done, and the insurance is secured, I'll have a major wholesale client.
Tomorrow, we're going to do a little flashback and I'm going to tell the story of the monkey-man of central NC!
Friday, July 27, 2007
I am so glad I did. For one thing, the chef wasn't there, and neither was his ape-like second in command (story to follow). It turned out that everyone I wanted to see was there, and no one I didn't want to see! How very convenient for me. It was wonderful to see all my old friends, and even nicer to be able to answer people's question of "what do you do now?" with the best answer I've ever had. Let me just assure you, when people expect you to tell them you're floundering around in another restaurant job, it really kicks ass to be able to say, "I own my own business, I'm a chocolatier".
There was one thing that I couldn't help but notice about the whole night. First, I need to explain my philosophy when it comes to people from my past that I'd rather forget. Essentially, if I'd rather forget them, for the most part, I do. I don't mean that I go to great lengths to erase them from my history, or pretend that they don't exist. I just cease to give them any importance. I don't ask others about them, I don't refer to them unless it's necessary, and I don't think about aspects of our interactions. So, armed with that information, you can imagine how, after months of forgetting all about the ways of the "great and powerful chef", I was inundated with stories. Every person at the party had a chef story and none of them were good.
I can't deny that there was a tiny amount of satisfaction in knowing that I was right in my assessment of him, and there was a large measure of relief at not having to endure his antics. But really, a lot of me felt bad for him, and especially for his family. He is truly one of the most miserable, bitter people I've ever met. He hides it well, but when the "fit hits the shan", the massive chip on his shoulder threatens to crush anyone in his path.
First, the good things: He has a wife who seems to be genuinely kind and decent. His children are quite young, and I really don't know what it would be like to have him as a father. He's a man of thirty, but he behaves like a 2 year old. When things are going his way, he can be very pleasant and funny. He seems to have sincere concern for his employees and friends.... But when things don't go his way, he throws a tantrum. He'll yell and scream and pout, storming around the kitchen, searching for something else that may be slightly off, so the tantrum can begin anew. All that sincere concern flies out the window, and he'll throw you to the wolves or just insult you until you'd prefer the wolves to listening to his rants.
In the span of two weeks, he accused me of sexual harrassment (without ever asking me to defend myself), told me how valuable I was to the team (after I'd requested a transfer out of the kitchen and the HR director betrayed my request to keep that information private unless she had a new position for me), and then, when I tendered my resignation, accused me of slacking off, while I was working just as hard as I always had. I suppose it would be within my rights to find some way to get back at him. But I'd really just rather move on with my life, forget his name, and watch from afar as the kitchen falls down around his head.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Of course it's not jams and jellies, it's chocolate! That's right, you too can have a Nearly Never-ending Supply of Chocolate!
I'd toyed with the idea before, but after a failed attempt to pick up the new Harry Potter book - we'd pre-ordered, but they were making everyone go through the same checkout line and only using two registers. Bad planning people, bad bad planning. The line literally snaked through the entire perimeter of the big bookstore and out into the mall. I'm not saying I was terribly surprised (although this is a small town, and half of it thinks that fictional books about wizards will still lead you straight to hell). But still, I didn't stay to wait it out in the line.
Back home, bookless and awake, I started thinking about chocolate. What sort of flavors would I include? After about five minutes of brainstorming, I said - wake up, silly - why not just get going on this right now? That's how I found myself writing code at 2 am, adding a new page to the website and coming up with an excellent list of flavors.
The lesson I learned from the whole night was - don't wait. If you have a good idea, write it down at the very least, and do more than that if you can. If not, some of the best ideas you have will slip away and be lost among all the little mundane things your brain must think about.
Tuesday, July 17, 2007
When I left my job to build this business, I left behind a lot of headaches, and a lot of bulls**t, but also my friend network. When you work with yourself, you've got no "work friends" but yourself. It's difficult to estimate the change that suddenly losing all your social contact will effect. Now, I don't want you to think I'm a hermit - I can and do maintain friendships outside of my workplace. The problem is that I've lived all over, and most of my friends reside in the places where I've lived. Even my best friend, who still lives in the state, lives about three hours away. This situation means that I've got great support, and plenty of phone conversations, but very little facetime. Visiting my friends is either going to require a long ride in the car or a trip on a plane.
I know I should try and make local friends, but I don't. No excuses, I just don't. After a long day of making chocolates and writing blogs, I really just want to get in the bath, or curl up on the bed with a book and a dog. Am I doomed to hermit-hood? I think for the moment, I am.
Nothing outside of my family means more to me than this business. If it didn't progress as quickly as it might, or if it were to - God forbid - fail because I'd put my energy and money into going out with people who only have a passing interest in my welfare, I couldn't forgive myself. Just another one of those sacrifices all the small business articles and books tell you about!
So, if you need me, I'll be under my rock.
PS - I'm now hooked up with Google checkout, so shopping for chocolate is even easier!
Monday, July 16, 2007
I've been a busy chocolatier. Thanks to the good people at cafépress, you are now able to purchase LØVE logo-ed mugs, magnets, t-shirts and more. You can check it out by going to my website and clicking on store. There's a link at the bottom of the page (that would be after you go and vote for a new flavor!). Or, you can just click here.
There are more designs to come, ones with witty phrases and clever little smears of chocolate, so keep checking. Also in the categories of more designs, I'm working on a tea-flavored line of chocolates. There's a little tearoom in the town where I live, and I'm hoping to do a little marketing with them. Cross your fingers, and I'll let you know when they're available for ordering on the website.
Tuesday, July 10, 2007
First of all, if you'll visit the website, you'll find a poll. My brain is full of new flavors, but I'd like your input. So go to the website and give me your input!
Second, I'm going to start sharing some recipes and techniques. If there's something you'd like to see here, please comment or email, and I'll do what I can. In that spirit, here's the first recipe!
French Brownies (adapted from Dorie Greenspan "Baking: From My Home to Yours", Houghton Mifflin, 2006- via the NY Times)
Preheat the oven to 300℉. Line an 8 x 8 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray or very lightly brush with butter.
You will need:
10 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts or hazelnuts (optional)
Melt the butter and the chocolates together in a bowl set over simmering water. Stir often to avoid burning. Set aside when melted.
Mix the flour and salt together, set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine eggs and sugar, beat on medium speed until very fluffy and pale yellow. Alternately, mix eggs and sugar in a bowl and beat with a hand mixer until fluffy and pale yellow. (Alternately alternate - whisk eggs and sugar by hand, just be prepared to do it for a while - it helps if you're ambidextrous)
Add the chocolate mixture to the eggs, blend until well combined. (*if your chocolate mixture is too hot to touch, put it over a bowl of ice or some ice packs and stir until it is cooled - if not, you may end up with chocolate scrambled eggs)
Gently and quickly fold in the dry ingredients until no flour remains visible (the best way to fold: think of the bowl as a clock face; draw your spatula from 12 to 6, rotate the bowl a quarter turn, and repeat).
Pour batter into the prepared pan, bake for 50-60 minutes, until top is shiny and dry. Remove from oven, allow to cool before cutting (yeah, right, I always do that).
This recipe came from a fairly recent NY Times article about brownies. I've cut down on the butter very slightly and changed the chocolate ratio from all bittersweet to bittersweet and unsweetened. When I made them before modifying the recipe, I found them to be a little too buttery, and not chocolatey enough. If you want to try them the other way, add two tablespoons more butter and use 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
In the spirit of good health and happiness, I've added a box of chocolate squares to the collection. They're created using an antique circus-themed mold - so each square has a different circus character molded into the face ( like high-class animal crackers!) - and they're about 5 grams each, the approximate size of the daily dose recommended in the study.
Why are you still here? :) Go order some now!
Monday, July 2, 2007
In other news, look for new flavors soon - the local farms are beginning to get fresh summer berries, and I'm just dying to put them with chocolate.
Monday, June 18, 2007
I'm talking about the wedding industry. There's been a lot of talk lately about the high price of weddings and the tendency of people to capitalize on the willingness of brides and parents to pay for it all. There's even a counter culture of brides who , "trash their dress" - but really, isn't this just another way to sell more photography time? I'm not really bashing it - I think it's just a logical extension of a wedding day - every girl wants to be a princess on her special day, and she'd also like to be a fashion model, pouting and preening in a fountain or a dingy alley. So where does it end? At what point do you stop feeling like you're providing a legitimate service, and start feeling like you're fueling a raging fire of emotions and fleecing little Susie out of one more dime she could have spent on her mortgage?
It's a question I struggle with, because I am aiming at the wedding market. In the slow months after Valentine's and before the holiday season starts up, wedding season is the respite of the struggling chocolatier. Who doesn't want a perfect little box of truffles with their new initial waiting at the table for their guests? And what makes a better thank you to all the friends and family that have put up with your antics for the past months than a big, indulgent box of chocolates? (and maybe a thank you note) But will I become part of the greedy masses, trumping up the idea of perfection to a starry-eyed consumer?
I'd like to think that I won't. I think most people who know me would agree - I'm a decent sort, and I'm not out to fleece anyone. Don't get me wrong, I don't think that everyone in this industry is - I know there are lots of people who really are interested in making someone else's day special, and they're not interested in gouging simply because it's a wedding. But one can't ignore the fact that there are some services that may be the same (i.e. a limousine) that cost extra when the intended recipient is a bride.
So now that I've had my say, why don't you order some truffles for your wedding?
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Two years ago, I was in NYC, sitting on a rooftop bar with a date, trying my very first mojito. In the spirit of rememberance, and just because they're so tasty, I've created the Mint Mojito Cream - minty buttercream with a dash of lime and a "kick". It won't get you tipsy, but it will certainly refresh you on one of these ridiculously hot days.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Revisiting the bacon-chocolate issue made me think about my own weird flavors. In my line, I have several unusual combinations. In fact, I've made it part of my philosophy to find those good, unexpected combinations and make them. I started with salt and chocolate (the Sea Salt Caramel) and added pepper and chocolate (Pink Peppercorn Caramel) to balance the combination. It took many attempts to get it right, but I'm pretty pleased with the final result.
For me, chocolate is about a moment. I'd rather have one amazing piece of chocolate than a whole box full of something mediocre. With my candies, I hope I can re-create that for someone else. I'm trying to find that balance between unique flavor combinations and classic ones. I don't want them to be overpoweringly rich, but I'd like to find that a person savors each piece, instead of eating them quickly.
So, if you're reading, please, tell me, what are your favorite weird flavor combinations? (ideally they'd include chocolate, but all submissions are interesting!)
Monday, June 11, 2007
Kitchen construction has begun. It's crazy how quickly and slowly the process goes. Over Memorial Day, the framing went up, and the plumbers are due to come this week. I still have to line up the electrician (I had one set up, but he flaked out). After that, it's just a matter of finish work and moving in all of the appliances.
When I was around ten, my parents built a house. Then, a few years later, my grandmother built a house. I've been through the building process, but it never seems to sink in. I've been seeing this kitchen in my head for months, and now I just want it done.
Friday, June 8, 2007
My first instinct was to go with something that reflected one of my aforementioned really cool pet names. I thought that would make it more personal, and sound good. I thought about Luca (my horse's name). But Luca what? Luca Chocolate? Luca's Chocolate? Just Luca? Luca was out. Next we tried a combination of our names (remember, I used to have a partner). The best we could come up with wer DEVA and LEVI. No.
One of the most promising came from an offhand comment that David would say when he was at a loss for words. But, after a few weeks, Blue Monkey Chocolate lost its luster.
Part of our logo was a lion. I am a huge Queen fan, and I've always loved the cover of "A Night at the Opera". David used that idea to create our own logo, and draw our own lions. Lion Chocolate does exactly roll off the tongue. I did a multi-language search for the word, and løve was discovered. Løve is the Danish word for lion. The exact pronunciation is "leuve" or something like that. We say love. It's faster, and requires less explanation.
It took about six months, and more words than I remember (I still have the lists), but I really feel like this is my company, my name. That's a great feeling.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
Our website is hosted by the lovely people over at www.fatcow.com. They have this dandy little program called "ShopSite" which helps you create a store with the help of a wizard. It was relatively quick, painless, and yielded good results. And if I wanted good results, I would never have had to wander down the HTML road. I wanted great, impressive, very professional results. That meant I had to master a few tags in order to avoid having one big run-on sentence of an online store.
Once that was mastered, I had to find a way to link my newly made store with our already existing website. Hilarity ensued. I'm sure lots of you in the blogosphere have plenty of experience with code and the inner workings of a website. But just in case you don't know what I'm talking about, let me give you an example of what it all looks like:
What the hell is that? (I've taken out all the little < symbols because it is technically coding, and I don't want to code the blog, I want to show the code.) I could pick out the words in the code, and so I started from there. This is the point in the story where I could take full credit for the loveliness that is our home page, and go on about how, with the help of a little book about code, I created that in a few short hours. But that would be untrue, and unfair. My dear friend and former partner, David, is responsible for cleaning up my mess. He very patiently went back through it all, with the help of Dreamweaver, and got everything sorted out. I'm not saying he did it all. I did manage to link the store to the home page by myself. But he made it look good. And that's why we're friends.
Now! Go order chocolate!
Friday, June 1, 2007
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
I find myself constantly considering marketing angles, trying to find new ways to put us in the black. I suppose that's why it filters over in my dreams. Too bad, really, I much prefer dreaming about romantic encounters. If I'm going to dream about chocolate, I wish I'd have some sort of grand revelation between the hours of midnight and eight, instead of just taking an order.
In other, much more interesting and exciting news, the new kitchen is now framed. I'm waiting to hear back from the plumbers, and we'll be on our way. I can't say enough good things about restaurant auctions when it comes to outfitting a kitchen on a budget. Certainly I've been to some auctions where people forget their senses and pay stupid prices for used equipment. But, if you find yourself at one of those glorious auctions where there is no reserve, and no-one wants to pay for anything, the deals are yours for the taking.
I was at such an auction a few months ago. I felt really bad for the restaurant owner - he'd lost his lease and had to be out, so everything had to go. I saw a $7000 crystal chandelier go for $600. My fellow buyers were mostly men, and mostly older, I stuck out like a zebra in a stockyard. The small wares were listed before the big equipment, so I had about a two hour wait of auctioning before I was even ready to consider bidding. That did nothing to lower my profile, either. At one point, I stood next to an older Indian man. He started up a little conversation, asking me where my business was, and so on. I answered a few questions and excused myself to go sit in another area of the restaurant. Less than five minutes later, here he came, making a beeline for my booth. He was joined by his business partner; together, they looked like they came from central casting. The first man who spoke to me was chubby and had a happy expression. His parter was tall, thin and shifty. He sat down and immediately started asking me questions - where was I located, what did I do, did I have a phone number? I told him that we didn't have a business number yet (a lie) and excused myself to go check out some of the equipment I would be bidding on. As I was looking in a back room, I heard them behind me! What was their deal? I'll never know if this was just some cultural miscommunication, or if they were trying to kidnap me, because about that time, the auction finally started moving back to the large equipment in the kitchen. In about thirty minutes, I was the new owner of a commercial microwave ($50), several sheet pans ($2 each), a double sink with drain boards ($25!!), and the big fish: an eight foot refrigerated work top ($350!). Needless to say, I was ecstatic.
So, as soon as I have plumbing, electricity, and some drywall, I'll have the perfect place to put all of my new stuff.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
I don't think many people understand the alchemical work that goes into making a beautiful, shiny piece of chocolate. Of course the big factories use machines to do all this work, and, on that scale, it would be impossible not to use a machine. But have you ever tried to melt chocolate and cool it back into something comparable? It's harder than it looks.
When I was a baby pastry chef, at the French Culinary Institute, I had a vague notion about tempering chocolate, although I'd only done it once - semi-successfully with a bag of Tollhouse chips. Tempering is so advanced that they didn't even broach the subject until I was halfway through my training. What followed was some sort of chocolate torture test.
There are three classic tempering methods: tabling, innoculation, and the ice bath method. Before we could move on, we had to master all three (or at least attempt). Now, innoculation and ice bath are both quite straightforward. The first involves melting 2/3's of the chocolate, and then stirring in the final unmelted 1/3 in order to introduce the proper crystals back into the chocolate. The ice bath method involves melting all the chocolate and then cooling it to the proper temperature over an ice bath.
But tabling is a different animal all together. First, one must begin with an impeccably clean surface - as large as possible. Next, melt the chocolate over simmering water. Don't forget to dry off the bottom of the bowl, or all will be lost before it's begun. Now comes the insanity. Take that bowl of expensive melted chocolate, and pour about half of it on the table. That's right, just pour it out. Using a bench scraper, push the chocolate around on the table. Be prepared to lose a good deal of this chocolate to the floor, your sleeves, hair, pants, etc. When whatever is left on the table has cooled, try to scrape it back into the bowl, stir it around and test it by putting a small amount on the back of a knife and waiting to see if it dries quickly to a glossy finish. If not (and it's probably not) try again!
Imagine that scenario played out simultaneously by twenty people standing side by side in rows of five. By the end of the day, very few of us had mastered our goal of tempering chocolate, but most of us were well covered in chocolate. After all of that, it's amazing that we all had the courage to try again the next day.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
It was about that time that my aunt made me an offer I couldn't refuse. She decided to make an investment in my company, to allow me to leave my job and focus solely on building a strong business. I didn't need a lot of convincing. I gave my notice and was out before Valentine's Day. I've since learned that the girl hired to replace me quit after a month. That's just sweet justice.
Saturday, May 12, 2007
First of all, it's a kitchen, full of men, and full of some of the foulest, most offensive language this side of the shipyard. I have been known to use some salty language, but it's always been on the low to medium side of offensive. I've dealt with my share of sexual harrassment, but, as crazy as it might sound, I've always found a way to ignore it. I knew when I became a chef that I was entering one of the last bastions of pure maleness. There are plenty of kitchens with strong female presence, but the majority are still places where guys are guys. To succeed, I've learned to play by their rules.
I can't convey my confusion enough. After all, I'd heard the chef and the sous chef (who happen to be best friends) say unbelievably inappropriate things with no apology. The most brazen was early in my time there, the sous chef, who had a particularly strong dislike for one of the gardeners, muttered only slightly under his breath as she passed, "f***ing c***". So really, what could I have said that would have been so offensive?
As it turned out, I'd said nothing at all. It was all a lie, all made up. I had no way to prove it, and I didn't even care to. I was so disgusted that I just wanted to find a way out.
Friday, May 11, 2007
For a while, it was the right choice. I had a brief run in with a crazy woman who worked in my department, but she soon left, and what followed was my "golden summer". Restaurants are peculiar organizations. The turnover is high, so it's pretty rare to get a group of people who all get along well and have known each other for long enough to have a seamless routine. For those few months, it was one big happy family in the Country Inn. We had barbecues, we went to the water park together, and every night of service went smoothly.
Things began to fall apart after Labor Day. Like a sweet summer romance gone bad, suddenly, this chef and job that I had come to love and respect started to show cracks. Demands became unreasonable, tempers flared pointlessly. Still, I felt secure enough in my job, and happy enough to be there. Around Christmas, the cracks became fissures and then big gaping sores. The funny thing about the holidays in a restaurant is that everyone's in misery, and everyone just muddles through. After New Year's, what had been unpleasant got downright ugly.
It was a normal Tuesday - my first day back from my days off, and the chef pulled me aside. We went out of the kitchen and up to a seldom-used room in the restaurant. I was naive enough to think that I was going to get a raise or a promotion - I'd been working really hard, and had been there nearly a year. My suspicions were only further enforced (stupidly) by the presence of the HR representative. As the chef started talking, I quickly realized that this was no promotion...
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Christmas of '06 was profitable, and great for exposure. It was also an incredibly trying time in my regular job. I didn't know it then, but it was to be the beginning of the end...