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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Everyone's a critic.

Actually, in this instance, the criticism was requested, and I think it was a pretty good review! Brian, of fame, kindly took some time out from his busy candy eating schedule to give my chocolates a whirl. You can read the review here.

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

Onward and upward.

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

Living well is the best revenge.

Earlier this week, I found myself at a party for a friend that I knew from my last job. It was sort of a spur of the moment decision to go, I'd been invited by another friend from the restaurant, with whom I stay in touch quite regularly. After I decided to go, I had sudden second thoughts...would the chef be there? In the end, I summoned my courage and put on my cutest dress.

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

It's the gift that keeps on givin'

My family is more than a little obsessed with National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. We watch it every Christmas, and some quote from the movie comes up in our conversation often. Part of it is that we have family members who are eerily similar to Clark's relatives. So it seemed a natural fit to come up with my own "jams and jellies of the month club".

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


Sometimes it's easy to forget that one of the best parts of the internet is the ability to connect with strangers and not-so-strangers. I know that the idea of blogging is to foster this community, but I'm still pretty new to it, so it still surprises me when I get a comment or an email.

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

Even More New Stuff!

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

Now with more stuff!

In the interest of keeping everyone's attention and perhaps attracting some more, I'm going to add a few new features.

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
3 eggs
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.


New Retail Location

I'm very excited to tell you that you can now find LØVE Chocolates at the Randolph Arts Guild. If you're from Asheboro or just passing through, I hope you'll stop by and pick up a box!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

the doctor is in.

Don't you just love it when science proves something you've known all along? Anybody who has ever taken a bite of rich, dark chocolate and felt that little rush knows that chocolate is essential for well being. The way it slides around in your mouth, the way it fills your nose with that divine smell, how could that ever be wrong?

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


As a kitchen professional, I was very curious to see Ratatouille. I've read the reviews, and all of them talked about the remarkable realism in rendering the food and a French kitchen. I have to say, it was spot on. The nice thing about computer animation is the way things can be perfectly illuminated. The pots and pans were gleaming, the food presented in its best light. Paris has never looked more appealing. It's worth going to see based on the visuals alone. But the story is fantastic. It started out a bit slow, but it was a very sweet, very entertaining movie. Pixar seems to be able to make an entertaining show without laying the sweetness on so thick that it becomes unrealistic and unappealing. Those guys really know how to write a story. I'm sure it will be on the DVD, but there was a really funny little short before the movie began, also worth the effort of getting out of the pajama pants and joining the crowds at the theater.

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.