S'More Amore March 16 2016
I am making a batch of S'More Eggs today, and ruminating on the process that led to this new product's existence. Several years ago, I had the idea to make a gourmet s'more that would put the traditional summer-camp variety to shame. In my mind, this confection would feature delicious, homemade graham crackers, combined with toasted, homemade marshmallows, and be finished off with high quality milk chocolate. Pretty straightforward I thought, with the key challenge being how to get that classic campfire-toasted taste, without actual campfire involvement.
My initial thought was, "How hard can it be?," and I figured that employing either a broiler or a blowtorch to toast a batch of homemade marshmallows would solve the biggest challenge. But oh Lord what a disaster that was. The marshmallow (in both cases) disintegrated into a puddle of disgusting toasted goo and never recovered.
While contemplating what to try next with the marshmallow, I moved on to the graham cracker, and tried a variety of recipes to get a feel for them. Again, I thought, "How hard can this be?," only to have it turn out to be pretty hard. Early cracker trials produced crackers that were too hard and dense, then too light and crumbly; different brands of flour behaved wildly different; further experimentation with the spice profile resulted in crackers that were too bland, and then too "What was I thinking?" I persisted, tho, and after "just" 20 or 30 trials, had a cracker I was happy with.
Back to the marshmallow problem I went.... And stayed for two years. I couldn't get the flavor right (too sickly sweet, not smoky enough), couldn't get the texture right (too fluffy, then too wet), and could not figure out how to get it to "stand up" to the graham cracker I had created. I went off the rails at one point and tried adding bacon to it (not recommended) and experimented pretty heavily with smoked salts, which yes, was a bit like experimenting with drugs.
And then in the midst of solving all kinds of chemistry and procedural problems, I discovered another problem: if the marshmallow touched the graham cracker, the cracker got soggy. Dipping the cracker in chocolate solved this, but created its own problem: if I went overboard with the chocolate, it was impossible to taste the marshmallow.
I really thought I could figure everything out and have this new, marvelous s'more thing ready to sell last spring. And then I thought, well maybe by last Christmas. And then I thought if I didn't get it right for this spring that I would lose my mind. It took 15 more trials with the marshmallow recipe to take it from "close" to "perfect," but finally, exhaustedly, elatedly, my dream of a better s'more has been realized. Smoky and sweet and oh, what a treat. You should try one!
Dark Chocolate Saves Lives! March 07 2016
Occasionally, I hear from people who tell me that they are sorry that they won't be ordering chocolates from me, but that they are either diabetic, or trying to lose weight. Usually this information comes to me second- or third-hand, but when the person has the courage to tell me directly, I say this in reply: dark chocolate is good for you, and if you are careful in your selections, you can eat an ounce of dark chocolate (several times a day, if you please), without a spike in your blood sugar, and with a caloric intake so modest that it is completely offset by the health benefits provided by the chocolate itself.
Leave the milk chocolate and cream fillings for the kids, but get some solid dark chocolate for yourself: Dark chocolate improves mood and metabolism, increases blood flow to the brain, reduces blood pressure, and contains anti-oxidants which can help slow the aging process. Rich in potassium, magnesium, and iron, chocolate is a real powerhouse!
My husband (rather ironically) is a diabetic, and many of the confections that I make, he shouldn't eat. But there are three things that I make that he eats regularly, with no spike in his blood sugar levels. They are (in Bonbon or Egg form): Hazelnut Coffee; Lime-Jalapeno; and Spicy Almonds.
And for people who are just watching their weight and don't have the health concerns associated with diabetes, any of the solid dark chocolates I offer are excellent choices, and each one offers its own nutritional benefit -- orange peels are packed with vitamin C, limes are rich in anti-oxidants, ginger helps cleanse the blood and detox the body, almonds are an anti-inflammatory superfood, and mint aids in digestion.
So, don't give up chocolate! Eat more, not less! The life you save may be your own!
Technology, Blechnology March 02 2016
This should not be this hard. According to my sons, it isn't hard at all. But for me, as a person who interfaces easily with tangible things like people, or the ingredients I use to make my chocolates, or the garden plants I grow to nourish my family, or the paints I use to create art, interfacing with technology is hard.
I am trying to learn how to create and send an HTML email, so that the marketing emails I send look professional and actually entice people to my website. It seems like a modest goal, but the tutorials and youtube videos on the subject are filled with words and phrases so foreign to me that I might as well be trying to learn some obscure language comprised entirely of clicking sounds and grunts. My age has something to do with this, of course, as I did not grow up with computers, but I did start using one as a young adult, have used a variety of computers and devices in my work ever since, and I'm not stupid.
I know that I need to use a fluid layout, so the email looks good on any computer, device, or phone, but what are extra attributes, and why do I need to check for them? Why do my media queries need to remain intact? Why do my tables need 25px of breathing room? And how do I use inline CSS and FONT tags so the coding doesn't get stripped out?
I read this stuff and want to cry because I don't understand any of it. I know that I should, I know that I could, I just don't know where or how to begin. And I need to send an email again today.
So, I wonder this: is there a computer-savvy genius with a sweet tooth out there who would like to barter with a chocolate-savvy genius (that's me) and do this for me? Seriously, I will give someone free chocolate in exchange for creating HTML emails for me. Because the only phrase I actually understood in all those tutorials was "social media icons."
That Last BonBon March 07 2015
When I am making a batch of chocolate bonbons, spooning the perfectly tempered chocolate into all those little molds, the last one never turns out. This is not entirely by accident, but rather a result of that last bonbon being formed by the chocolate scrapings from the sides and bottom of a virtually empty bowl. Some of these chocolate leavings are already hardened, so that one bonbon is usually a real Quasimodo. And it is mine. All mine. Mine to taste, to test, to enjoy, to do with as I please.
I am not a chocoholic, which surprises people. It should please people, because it means that I can be all up in the chocolate all day long and not lick my fingers. Which is a good thing for all y'all. But at the end of the day, I do enjoy that last bonbon.
Yesterday's last bonbon was of the Milk Chocolate English Toffee variety. And while I do favor dark chocolate, that bonbon was heaven. Pure heaven. So purely heavenly, in fact, that I am now writing about it. To be fair, my euphoria over this confection was due only in part to its deliciousness. My bigger elation was actually from the hard-won victory of Toffee Perfection. To explain: I have been making perfect toffee for a long time. But, after moving from Chicago to New England a year and a half ago, I had some trouble with my "evaporated" candies -- namely the caramels and the toffee. The coastal climate here with its salty humidity is a real game-changer over what I was used to in the Midwest. Candy just doesn't cook the same. And I couldn't quite get used to it. During last year's spring chocolate season, I wound up with two batches of pretzel caramel and one batch of toffee that I couldn't use because they just weren't right.
But this year.....oh this year....... I am pleased to report that further experimentation coupled with keen observation has taken care of this problem. My East Coast English Toffee is now spectacular. I mean really spectacular. Toffee -- kitchen chemistry-wise -- is a hybrid of caramel and hard candy. Made perfectly, it is crunchy, buttery, caramel-colored and -flavored, and a tiny bit sticky, but perfect toffee should also "release" and leave your mouth with nothing to pick out of your molars. Mine is now all those things and more. And yesterday, at the end of a long day, oh, that last bonbon was just what I said: pure heaven!
Everything is New! February 27 2015
While it isn't entirely true that Everything is New, it sure feels that way! New products, new special offers, and fresh new photography on the website have me all a-twitter for the spring season at CocoLoco and the freshness of it all. The new product line-up includes foil-wrapped bonbons, which I am excited to finally offer. Customers have asked for bite-sized chocolates, and while the bonbons are technically about three bites each, I think they fit the bill, and are definitely more "manageable" than an egg or pretzel. I also love the look of them and that they are more versatile as to occasion.
Also new this spring is my free shipping offer, which I hope people will take advantage of. I wasn't in a position to offer this last year, and am excited to be able to now.
Boy, I better quit writing and get back in the kitchen!
My Posse April 04 2014
I started CocoLoco Chocolates in February 1998 with five products, my Christmas card mailing list, and lofty aspirations of one day owning a store and a factory. I was quickly doused with reality, learning that the candy business is extremely competitive, people are very brand-loyal, and I was going to have to step it up and be extraordinary if I intended to succeed.
Turns out that I am at least somewhat extraordinary, and modest success has come my way. I now have 30 products -- all my own, original creations -- and a mailing list of bona fide customers that far exceeds three sheets of address labels. But the dream of a store and a factory remain elusive.
Two years ago, an illness and injury set me back a bit, and the downtime gave me a chance to think about the trajectory of CocoLoco and to make better long-range plans for achieving my goals. Once complete, I committed myself to Phase 1: a period of re-development followed by a re-launch with a website. After a move from Chicago to New England, I was ready.
My bank account, however, wasn’t. I couldn’t bear the thought of waiting until I did have the money, and agonized over what to do and how to raise the money I needed. A thought struck: This is what kickstarter.com was created for! And I took inspiration from their model and hatched a plan to do my own, private kickstarter to get the money I needed. I wrote and re-wrote the email I planned to send to a short list of my most devoted, loyal customers, in which I laid out my plans and requested financial support. And then agonized for days over sending it.
I have a hard time asking for help. I am very independent and take a lot of pride in doing things myself. Also, in this case, I wasn’t sure that I could take it if my request met with silence. For me, that would be a sign that CocoLoco Chocolates was a dream best left unfilled, and I did. Not. Want. To. Hear. That. But in a moment of courage and folly, I sent the email. And the response was immediate and overwhelming. Every single person replied with heart-felt best wishes, and all but two sent money. I couldn’t believe it.
This group of financial backers I dubbed my “Kickstarter Posse,” and they quickly stepped up and became like a Board of Directors comprised entirely of Fairy Godmothers and Godfathers. Which, to my mind, is just what a Board should be -- people with generosity and making magic happen as their bottom line. My Posse members have been cheerleaders and champions, advisors and advocates, hand-holders and head bangers, and just generally the greatest group of people I could have ever surrounded myself with. And now that our “project” together is complete, I don’t want to let my Posse go. The risk I took in asking and the support I received in reply feels like validation in the extreme. And I like it. I like them. I know they think of themselves as firestarters whose job is done, but I’d like them to stick around for awhile!
Five, Four, Three, Two, One! February 24 2014
The countdown to launch begins! After years of dreaming, plotting, planning, and cajoling, the website for my beloved CocoLoco Chocolates is a mere five days away from launching. I wish that everything was done and ready and all the loose ends were tied up in pretty bows, but instead must take hope and solace from the fact that today's To Do List comfortably fits on one page. In my imaginings, this time right before launch was like a New Year's Rockin' Eve countdown, with spirits high and everyone counting 10…9…8…7… in unison, with a smooth cadence and common rhythm. Instead, the reality of this time is a jazz cadence and syncopated rhythm accompanying not a countdown, but a variation of the Twelve Days of Christmas where I do the first day's tasks, and after moving on to the second day's tasks, have to go back and repeat most of the first day's tasks a second time. And, of course, this progresses and repeats through days three and four and five…… with those first tasks getting done and re-done what feels like a hundred million times. We are getting there, though! And slow and steady wins the race, right?