Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What I Know...

Now that a new year is about to begin, it's only natural to reflect on the previous year and contemplate what the new year could possibly bring. I've never been a fan of resolutions, in fact I've never really liked New Year's Eve and all the hype that goes with it. Call me a party pooper, but for as long as I can remember, people, myself included, have held New Year's eve as this magical night that will change them forever. It rarely ever does.

There is something to be said about HOPE, however. Hoping the next year isn't as crappy as the last year. Hope that you can finally kick that nasty habit. Hope that you'll finally achieve those goals you've been reaching for. I can dig Hope. It's that we pin it all on one single night that bothers me. I reflect on my personal life on a daily basis and try to tweak things here and there any chance I get. I set goals and reach goals every week. I'm always placing new limits on what I want to achieve, regardless of the date on the calendar.

When we place all those Hopes on one single night...one single hour, we are doomed to be let down. It's similar to starting a fasting diet on Monday and wondering why we can't make it to Tuesday without caving in. We think that if we don't make all those goals and changes on the first day of the new year, well, then the rest of the year is screwed. There's always next year!

What I think I want to do today, is take stock in who I am now. Look at what I want to achieve in the future, and what I think I'd like to work on changing. And try to find peace within. I might not succeed at every single thing on my list, but I might also achieve more goals if I don't put that pressure on myself. But I'm certainly not going to quit trying, just because I fail on the first few days of a new year. I'm going to pick myself back up every single day and keep trying to grow and learn from my past mistakes. I'll get there eventually...with or without the crazy hat or funny noise makers.

Maybe everyone should look at each day as a new day...a new year....and resolve to be the best person that they can possibly be.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sometimes, this is hard.

I've been enjoying the time "off" that I've had over the last few days. The curious case of strep throat that I got Christmas day sort of forced me to sit down and not move for about 24 hours. Then, a few times, I even consciously CHOSE to just sit down and do nothing except watch the kids play. I've been reminding myself that this time in their life is so very fleeting, and I don't want to regret missing it. I have a tendency to carry around my iPhone and I'm catching myself more and more staring at it and doing work or other random tasks on it, instead of watching my adorable kids.

So, yesterday and Saturday I spent a great deal of time sitting on the sofa watching Joshua play his video game that Santa brought, and then I would switch gears (and seats) and watch Jacob play our home computer. He's only recently taken interest in NickJr.com games, and is surprisingly good at it. It is fun watching how well they adapt and learn these technologies.

However...today is Monday. I have work to do. But they don't understand that, so all morning I have been telling them "No, I can't watch you." and it's breaking my heart....and theirs. They just don't realize what Mommy actually does on a day to day basis. They think I should be allowed to just sit and watch them all day. Hey...why aren't I allowed to just sit and watch them all day? This isn't fair! Waaahhh..

Plus, it's actually kind of frustrating. I have a morning routine, and it's completely off today. I just want to go hide in a closet with my cup of frickin' tea that I should totally not be drinking in the first place. CAFFEINE! DAIRY! SUGAR! But, look, here I go....mmmm. That's some damn fine tea.

And not to mention this weight I've gained. FUN! Blurg. I just need a minute or fifty to relax and recuperate from these FESTIVE HOLIDAYS!!!! Blurg.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Those dancing days...

As I've expressed on here before, I really dig music. And lately I've been inspired to jot down lyrics that at any particular time might ring true, or stand out for some reason. So, yesterday when I was listening to a song that I've heard a hundred times, and a certain verse caught my ear, I knew I had to share it. As I go through new and introspective phases in my life, I turn inward and look at what is going on within myself to see if anything is missing or lacking. These lyrics pretty much sum up my current view.

-----
Slow down, please slow down
I need to find peace, anywhere in me
I feel like I'm under water struggling to get air
I feel like I'm lost in this body, trying to get inside my head
I wanna know, what I'm thinking what I'm feeling
What I want my life to be
I wanna know how I like to plan to make things easier
For everyone but me

-Those Dancing Days "Hitten"

And the full video, if you so desire....it's a brilliant song.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Old country for new pretzels

A week or so ago I was called by a DJ for the local country station K105. They wanted to interview me on air for a few minutes on the Tuesday before Christmas and discuss my pretzels. At first I was a bit unsure, and nervous about it, but ultimately decided to go for it. I've been on the radio before with no problems, but this would be the first time I've actually been in the studio. I assumed that would make me that much more insecure and lead to stage fright. But I couldn't say no, this was free advertising after all.



Our power came on Monday night at 6 pm, and we packed up our stuff and moved back into our frigid home, unpacked, got organized, and in bed by 11 pm. I woke up at 6 am the next day to blizzard conditions and really dreaded going to the interview. I went anyway, and got there with no problems. Although I nearly bit it about 5 times walking up to the doors...ice covered parking lot with snow to disguise it...a nice touch.



Once inside, the DJ's made me feel comfortable as I attempted to slice pieces of pretzel using a plastic knife. When this was clearly not going to work, they upgraded me to a butter knife. Not much better, but oh well, they got to taste some, which was the main goal.



It was kind of a weird interview actually. The previous radio spot i did, was full of questions and took about 5 or 10 minutes. This one was different in many ways. To begin with, one of the DJs asked me several questions off air, right away. I answered them. Then, once on air, he asked me those same exact questions. I assume it was so that I would relax knowing that I had the answer on the tip of my tongue, but seemed a little unusual.



Also, they asked me questions in between commercial spots and songs, so my on air time was fairly small. We did a give away of one of my gift boxes, and that was that. They said they loved the pretzels, and I got a lot of traffic from K105 to my site, but no orders. I hope it's because I mentioned that people should go to Hallmark or Espresso Gallery for a quicker turn around, and not because they didn't think they were worth it, but I might not ever know.



Ultimately I left feeling pretty good about it, and with a huge stash of tshirts, cds and dvds...it was well worth the frosty drive.

Friday, December 26, 2008

procrastination

i have pretzels to make. i have strep throat. i have one child getting over strep throat. i have a messy house, and lots of laundry to do. i have a christmas luncheon to prepare for that was postponed due to said strep throat. i don't want to do anything.

sometimes i miss being a kid...

Powerless

A week ago, Friday, the power went out at our house, as it did in thousands of homes across our county and surrounding areas. I didn't think too much about it at first, because we've lost power lots of times over the years for various reasons, and never went more than a few hours before it came back on.

This time was different. The cause of the power outages was due to a layer of heavy ice that had coated the wintry trees, allowing them to all crack under pressure and cave into homes and onto power lines. We awoke to a huge *bang* Friday morning, and found a very ginormous limb of one of our maple trees lying just perfectly across our garage roof, and down onto our deck in the back yard. First appearances indicated no real damage to our home, except that it made for quite the obstacle course for getting our golden retriever out to potty. She's lazy though, so it was a good change of pace for her. (although the next day, as Joshua was looking into our garage and saying, "Look! A tree branch!" we realized another limb had found its way through the roof on the other side of the garage...)


As evening approached i was hearing rumblings that power wouldn't be back on in some parts of the city until Christmas Eve. I still didn't worry...that wouldn't be us. But, at this point, most of our friends and relatives were also out of power, and the prospects of it being on by morning were looking dim. So, we took the high road and went to New Haven to stay with Mark's aunt and uncle. We packed enough for one night.


The following day didn't bring much better news. Three fourths of the city was without power, and the trees were continuing to shed limbs onto recently repaired lines, delaying the efforts even more.


So, we trekked back home to check on things, and gather more goods to bring back with us to our temporary home. It was dark and cold and ominous there, and it honestly felt a little like the end of the world. Our street was lined with cold, icy trees, and cold, icy cars. There were no sounds, no lights, and no people. The only sound I detected was our neighbors generator. Other than that, it was a very creepy stillness. It actually reminded me of that Spongebob episode where Squidward goes into the future and everything is spray painted chrome, except in this case everything is spray painted with heavy ice that puts major kinks in holiday plans.


By Sunday, we were still without power, and had no idea when it might come back on. Lots of people bought generators and kerosene heaters and melted snow over gas burners to wash dishes, and roughed it like true survivalists. We, on the other hand, were living the high life. A flat screen tv in literally every room, a real live pac man video arcade game, a pool table, and food and beverages out the wazoo. Nice, friendly hosts who catered to our every whim. It was like we were on vacation. Except that I had this nagging feeling that didn't allow me to relax. I felt just a little off. Perhaps it was because we weren't in our own home. Perhaps it was because we were invading someone's routine unexpectedly. Perhaps it was because I felt like we weren't capable of taking care of ourselves. It was like we packed up and mooched off of someone else and didn't even try to figure out how to survive on our own. I know we have two small kids, but still. It would have felt great knowing we could conquer anything as a family, without the help from anyone else. Perhaps that's my type A personality talking. Who knows.


As it turns out, Joshua became ill with Strep throat and it was quite the blessing to have a nice warm home for him to recuperate in. I am very grateful for that. Luckily, too, my orders had all been completed and shipped out on Thursday just before Armageddon hit, so at least my business didn't suffer any. And, power finally came back on Monday night, so i spent Tuesday putting our house back together, and Wednesday wrapping presents and prepping for Christmas like a mad woman. Only to get strep throat myself come Christmas morning...a day spent in bed, ahhh the memories.


So, what lesson to learn from all of this? I don't know. Maybe take stock in what kind of emergency preparedness plans we should have lined up for such an occurrence in the future. Maybe just be freaking glad we have amazing relatives who don't mind a crazy family dropping in on them for 4 days. Maybe just be thankful our power is finally on, as many across the area still do not have any, not to mention the thousands of people across the world without a home at all.


The true meaning of Christmas, perhaps.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Feeling Good

Over the last few weeks I've received orders from a variety of sources. Local customers who might have seen our pretzels around town, wholesale customers who order year round, and internet customers who happen to stumble upon us.

But it's always fascinating to me that anyone feels like my little old pretzels are gift worthy. I had a lady order a gift box a few days ago, and the gift tag read "Enjoy these sweet treats made right here in Fort Wayne!" It gave me a little tingle to know that a grandmother wanted to send my product to her grandchildren, and that she made a point to say they were locally made.

And, yesterday, when I dropped off some pretzels to the Anchor Room, a lady who saw me placing the pretzels in their basket, said, "Do you make those?" And after I told her that I did, she responded, "Oh, those are just wonderful. Weren't you in the mall too?" And that led to my discussion with a complete stranger about my tiny business and our retail adventures. Her comment left me feeling warm and fuzzy though. When people mention they remember us from the mall, I know we made an impression on them, which makes that whole crazy experience worth it.

In a weird way, it's like I'm making lives just a tiny bit better by having created this little business called DipSticks. All across the country (I've shipped to california, florida, las vegas, missouri, utah, arizona, kansas, alabama, new york, & north carolina just in the last week!) people are opening shipping boxes to reveal a nice little chocolate gift that a loved one sent, or that they ordered for themselves, and this all happened because I developed a few crazy pretzel flavors.

I'm not saying that life wouldn't go on without them, or that I'm eliminating global warming or something, but it is pretty cool anyway.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tis the season!

Wow. I can't believe how fast this holiday has flown by. It seems like every year I am surprised by this business and what all it entails.

This year, given the economic uncertainty, I really wasn't sure what to expect. I assumed sales would be down, and had kind of relaxed a bit. But it didn't really work out that way.

I usually get a huge influx of wholesale orders a few weeks after Thanksgiving, and then again just before Christmas. And every single time I feel like I'm not capable of doing it all, but somehow we manage to get by unscathed. And then, just when I least expect it, come the internet orders!

I don't actively market my web site for various reasons. First of all, I am a one man band for the most part, and keeping track of multiple internet orders is more time consuming and stressful than just one or two wholesale clients. And, secondly, I do my website myself, which limits some of the options that most retails sites have. So, until I have someone more capable managing my site, I will always downplay it a little.

Inevitably though, each Christmas, the masses find me despite my lack of marketing. On Monday I received 6 nice sized web orders, and Tuesday had several orders as well. These are usually very welcome orders, as they are retail, meaning full price, so we do make more profit on those orders. But, they are also the more time consuming orders too. Some people place orders for 1 each of several different flavors, which can take as long as doing 100 of one flavor. Some expect immediate turn around, not realizing they are dealing with a mom and pop shop. And, of course, I do my best to fit what they need, because the last thing I want is for any customers to be upset at our customer service.

I'm not even remotely looking this gift horse in the mouth though. I actually look forward to a day when I can handle hundreds of online orders with no stress at all.

Perhaps when my youngest son is in Kindergarten I can donate more of my time and energy to that, but for now I'm okay with the way things are going.

We'll be on a local radio station in a few days too, which is going to be fun and a little nerve wracking at the same time. I always get nervous, but things tend to work out just fine. It's been a great year, and I look forward to what 2009 brings.

Happy Holidays to you all, and have a blessed New Year!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New flavors and spinners at Hallmark!

Hey! Good news. We have been upgraded to the new spinners at Hallmark stores. The black counter top display units that we use at Espresso Gallery are now being used at the 4 local hallmarks as well.

This is great news because the old baskets we used just weren't as appealing. Often, I'd pop in to check on the stash, and find several pretzels just tossed randomly into the basket, with the hang tags bent, or the bows undone. Not appealing.

Not only will this give us a more prominent position in the stores, but it will also clean up the look.

In addition to these new spinners, we also just dropped off several of our holiday and seasonal flavors. Candy Cane, Gingerbread Man, Snow Bunny, Snowman, Christmas Cookie, Hot Cocoa, and others.

I can't wait to see what these new displays do for our sales at Hallmark, we may just be switching all of our stores to these spinners.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Blame Facebook

I've been severely neglectful of this blog for too long! I've signed up for Facebook and have been addicted ever since. And on occasion I fit in a few hundred pretzels too...oh and those pesky kids do need some care, but only every 5 minutes or so.

I hope to soon update this blog with news from pretzel land, but until then...come find me on facebook!

Friday, November 7, 2008

History Lesson: Snow Bunny & Snowman

These two flavors came about in an unusual way. Typically I like to think of inspiration for a pretzel first, like an ice cream flavor, or candy bar. Then, I figure out what it is about that particular item that makes it good, and try to recreate it.


For example, the Gone Bananas flavor is created around the Chunky Monkey Ben and Jerry's ice cream. I took banana flavored caramel and rolled it in walnuts and then dipped it in dark chocolate. It reminded me of that ice cream, and tasted great, so it was a keeper.

But this one was created bass akwards. My friend Lesley and I were playing around with flavors one day a few years ago, and she said, "I wonder what coconut and marshmallow would taste like on a pretzel?"

I froze for a few seconds, thinking, "But that's all wrong! What would we call it? What chocolate would we dip it in?" I had never tried just combining random flavors first and then figuring out the rest of the details.

So, after what seemed like milliseconds, I said, "We could dip it in white chocolate and call it Snow Bunny!" After tasting this final product, we both loved it and a new pretzel flavor was born.



It wasn't long after that, the Snowman pretzel was born, to give customers a coconut free option.



The Snow Bunny is sprinkled with coconut and cute little edible snowflake confetti, and the Snowman is sprinkled with tiny white balls. I really wanted to find edible carrot, and black top hat confetti, and sprinkle black nonpareils on it to create a Frosty the Snowman look, but for some odd reason there are carrots, but no hat tops! Come on people...weddings!?

So, check out your neighborhood hallmark stores (in Fort Wayne that is) and you'll be seeing these and other Holiday Flavors soon...







Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Turkey Day desserts at Williams Sonoma

So, I've attended three cooking classes in the last three weeks, and am just now finding one worthy of blogging about. The first class was about my beloved French cuisine, but the only great thing to come from the class was the Wild Mushroom Tartlet (Poached Pears in spiced Red Wine...uh. No.)

Then the next week was hors d'oeuvres. The class I signed up for and the class I ended up with were two different things. There were four recipes, or so I thought, but we ended up doing almost 8. We ran out of time..actually we went into double overtime, and had to omit one.

My favorite from that class was the Quick Fried Shrimp with Sweet Toasty Garlic, and the Fried Green Olives. Sounds disgusting, I know. Even for an avid olive lover like myself, I was skeptical, but they were so good it nearly made me want to plunk down the $150 for the deep fryer. But, seriously, people. I do not need a deep fryer. No good can come of that. Before you know it I'd be dipping my pretzels in there, ala deep fried snickers, and/or burning the house down.

The other two mildly passable hors d'oeuvres were two nut mixes. One being a curry based salty mix, and another having candied bacon in it. Um..if it's got candied bacon, I'm there. It was a sweet mix, with dried cherries in it, and pralined pecans too. Yep, it's going to be a good one for the holidays.

But finally, the Thanksgiving Desserts class. On the schedule was, in the order I was most looking forward to, Cranberry Cheesecake with Chocolate Cinnamon Crust, Bourbon Pecan Pie with Buttermilk whipped cream, Spiced Pumpkin layer cake with Cream Cheese frosting, and Molasses Gingerbread cake with Cinnamon whipped cream.

The first dish we sampled was the pumpkin layer cake. The cream cheese frosting also had pumpkin puree in it, which I've never seen done before. It was very moist and flavorful. I'll definitely make it someday.

The next one she made in class was the Bourbon Pecan Pie. First sign of doom was that they couldn't put bourbon in it because they don't have a liquor license. Um, dumb question....why the bejeesus put that on the menu then? That was the whole reason to get excited about it. Everybody knows what a regular old pecan pie tastes like. Then, the final blow was that, even 35 minutes after class was technically over, the pie wasn't done. I didn't even get to taste the non bourbon pecan pie. I guess it's lucky it didn't have bourbon, or I'd have camped out waiting for that beyotch to be done!

Next up to taste was the one I was most looking forward to. You know my current obsession with cheesecakes..so it's not a surprise that it was the cranberry cheesecake with chocolate cinnamon crust. However, the chef decided to do these in the mini, mini form. They were very dried out and the crust to filling ratio was way off, and so the bottom of the cake was hard as a rock. I could not even detect the slightest bit of cinnamon either. And the cranberry sauce just didn't do anything for me. Sounds like I'm being picky. I am. You expect a lot out of these cooking classes when you're paying $40, and I was a little bummed.

But, the saving grace was, ironically, the one recipe I wasn't excited about. That'll teach me! It was the Molasses Gingerbread cake with cinnamon whipped cream. They baked it in a nice bundt pan that was shaped almost like the Swiss Alps. The edges were just a bit chewy, like the edges of brownies, and the center was the most ridonculously moist cake ever. Huge taste of gingerbread and cloves and cinnamon. The molasses wasn't overwhelming at all. I will be making this cake for Christmas too.

It was a very fun class though, and I met some nice people. Foodies are usually fun people and love to talk, so we all got to gabbing about favorite recipes and food tips. I love these classes, and can't wait until the next batch comes closer to Christmas. If you ever get the chance...novice or professional, I highly recommend these classes.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Woodburn Missionary Church event

This weekend was quite busy, but fun! I had the pleasure of being involved in the Woodburn Missionary church Women's ministry spa day.

About 100 women attended, and were treated to break out sessions, snazzy fruity drinks with flowers in them, a well thought out cruise theme, and lots of shopping.








We were part of the shopping experience, obviously, and had a table set up to sell our pretzels, apples and marshmallows.

I had no idea what would sell and what wouldn't, so I tried to bring a variety. The most popular item were the 4" pretzels, and then the marshmallows. I was surprised by that actually. I thought the caramel apples would go fast...especially the new Pumpkin Pie ones. The are to die for. But, for whatever reason, we only sold about half of what I brought.

Everything else sold like hot cakes.







My mom came with me, and kept me awake all day. I had about 4 hours of sleep the night before, and got up way earlier than should be natural. And, being on the candida diet, I had no caffeine to perk me up either...just a bag of brazil nuts and some celery. Mmmm. Hmmm.












Mark and the boys stopped by during lunch and livened the day a little, but the boys quickly discovered the Lito Deck, and bailed into the "pool". Jacob was strangling the fake palm tree when Mark quickly decided to get out of there.












Here's a picture when they were actually sitting still.

Overall it was a fun filled day and I got some cool nail polish from the girls at the booth next to us.

I will definitely be there again next year!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Alaska is Purple

My darling little 5 year old has started the much anticipated age of "why?" Yep, every stinking thing that comes out of my mouth is followed closely by "Why?"

It doesn't even matter what I say. I could say, "Joshua let's go outside" or "Joshua your shirt's on backwards." and still..."Why?"

After weeks of trying to answer each question logically, I finally had a moment of desperation in which I truly just needed him to shut the heck up. So, one night when Joshua asked if he could have apple cider, I said "NO. IT's all gone."

"Why?"

"Because you drank it all."

"Why?"

"I guess because you really liked it, and now we need to get more from the store."

"Why?"

Seriously? Are you kidding me? I could not take it any more. So my answer to his last "Why?" was "Because Alaska is Purple!"

And he said, "OH. Okay."

If only all conflicts could be resolved that easily.

Monday, October 20, 2008

History Lesson: Turtle & English Toffee

After discovering how good the lemon crunch tasted on my Lemon Meringue Pie pretzel, I very quickly followed it up with some more traditional tastes. Everyone loves a turtle, with caramel, pecans and chocolate, so of course I had to try rolling a pretzel rod in pecans. It was a no brainer, and tasted fantastic. At first I used whatever pecans I could find at the grocery store, but quickly found out how expensive, and inconsistent in taste they were.



Fortunately I was able to to get connected with a company in Georgia selling some amazing pecans. But buying them individually was a bit expensive. As time passed, and the Turtle pretzel became by far the number one selling pretzel, I was able to justify the expense of purchasing a large box of pecan pieces, which ultimately saved me money in the long run.



My next traditional flavor had to be toffee. Who doesn't love a Heath Toffee bar? But this was going to be so much better with the addition of caramel. I started out doing things the hard way as usual, and bought Heath bars and crunched them up.

Eventually I realized they sold pre-crunched Heath toffee bits at the store, and have since moved up to using bulk Heath toffee bits from my wholesale supplier.

These two simple pretzels have become the number one and two top sellers consistently, year after year.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Busy bees

As fall has made its appearance, so has lots of work for me. It seems like the weather got a bit cooler and all of a sudden everyone remembered to eat chocolate!

I've had lots of orders lately, for the pretzels, but also for the marshmallows and apples. Those caramel apples are a big hit, and I've created two new flavors for fall: Harvest, and Trick or Treat.

They aren't necessarily new flavors, because I've used them on pretzels for a while now, but they are new to the apples. They look great and taste awesome too. I'll try to get photos up eventually, but that is not my forte. I like taking pictures...I don't like taking the time to upload and prep for web. I'll get to it eventually, I promise.

In the meantime, the boys are keeping me busy as usual. Joshua has become a huge fan of kindergarten, which makes my day start much easier. No more fighting me on the issue, and he usually loves doing homework too. (the picture above is of us at the beach house in NC doing homework. He actually liked doing it on this day.) He's starting to sound out words and read books, which is simply inspiring. As a parent there is something magical when your child starts to grasp such huge concepts like reading. It's a little frightening at the same time, because that means prom is just around the corner, but I'm trying to take one milestone at a time...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

History Lesson: Lemon Meringue Pie


First of all, HOLY CRAP these pictures look bad. I seriously have to get on that. For one thing, it's just a really bad angle, but mostly the thing that bothers me is how much bigger the pretzels are now than they were when I first started making them. This one looks so skinny!

Anyway, back to the point of this post. When I first decided to make these pretzels as a business, I knew I had to think of other flavors besides my original, Plain Jane, pretzel. Who can make a business on just one candy flavor, or cookie flavor? So, I got busy thinking of flavor combinations.

My favorite dessert, as you already know, is Lemon Meringue Pie. So, my first pretzel flavor attempt involved a lemon flavored candy crunch, and white chocolate to imitate the meringue. I looked at the pretzel as being like a "crust" for the pie, which then led to several more pie flavors, such as Pecan Pie, Pumpkin Pie, and Banana Cream Pie, but more on those later.

The tart lemon candy mixed very well with the sweet chocolate and caramel, and the pretzel provided just the right salty crunch. With this flavor being a winner, the possibilities were endless. From here I just started throwing all kinds of combinations together.

Of course some ended up better than others. Some flavors you just knew were going to be great, and they ended up being the worst. Other flavor combinations seemed weird, but ended up being my favorite. I think I'll do a post on some of those odd ones too.
I have 50 flavors, but I'm sure I could come up with 50 more!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

History Lesson: Plain Jane


This is the one that started it all! My mom and I would make these every year around Christmas time. We actually purchased pretzel rods, and Hershey's Classic individually wrapped caramels. I would unwrap each caramel by hand and put them in the microwave to soften them a bit. Then, I would wrap each caramel around a pretzel like a rope, dip it in different kinds of chocolate, and if I felt really adventurous, I would sprinkle edible confetti on them.

For a two year old's birthday party once, I colored them purple and orange and sprinkled them with neon colored mini dinosaur shapes. They were the hit of the party, and it got my brain thinking.

After asking around if people would buy these, I decided to pursue the idea of turning these delicious treats into a business. But, there were so many changes to come, and the fun was just beginning...

Friday, October 10, 2008

History Lesson: Harvest


Harvest
I thought it would be fun to go back and look at how some of my flavors were created. I've been making these for so long that I have a tendency to forget exactly how fun and unusual it was to create some of them.


For example, I was making caramel apples the other day using my mix called "Harvest" which is comprised of red hots, candy corn, and cocktail peanuts.


To most people, that combination may not sound appetizing. It certainly didn't to me when I was kid. But, nevertheless, bowls of this combination were found all over my house around this time of year. Even relatives had it. I always picked out the candy corn by itself, or occasionally I picked out a peanut or two, but never ventured as far as eating them all at once.


Then, a few years back I got adventurous and decided that there HAD to be a logical reason why these three very specific food items were always found mingling together. So, I took a deep breath, grabbed one of each thing, and popped them in my mouth. Holy crap! That was good.


Years later, when trying to think of a seasonal pretzel for the fall, I immediately thought of this combination. After dipping it in milk chocolate and then sprinkling it with fall colored edible leaf confetti, the new "Harvest" pretzel was complete. It should be great on an apple too.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stop touching me, and other fun stuff.

My kids have reached that age. I'm assuming it's a stage, perhaps one that lasts forever, but still, not something that is my fault, ok?! Sorry, I'm a little on edge...

What I mean is. My two wonderful boys have decided that it was time in their young life to start complaining about each other. It started a few months ago with Joshua getting upset if Jacob took something of his. That I can understand. I mean, if someone takes something of yours you have the right to be peeved.

But now it has morphed/escalated into a situation where not only does Joshua HATE everything that Jacob does, but Jacob is aware of this, and does it ten times more often.

Example: I walk to pick Joshua up from school every day. I have a double stroller in which Jacob sits behind Joshua. The very second Joshua sits down, Jacob is in his face. Usually it's to say "hi Joshua" but lately it's to make some annoying noise or to "spit" at him. no, he's not actually spitting, it's just a raspberry kind of sound, but it is annoying.

So the rest of my formerly enjoyable walk home has turned into bickering and whining between them. "Stop touching me!" "bbbzzbzzzbbzz" "Stop spitting at me!" "Bzzbbbbzzzzzzzzz" "Stop it!"

I can't even blare my headphones loud enough to drown out the sound. I'm trying to decide if I should give up the walking and kill the environment a little more with my gas guzzling SUV, in exchange for saving my ever loving mind. Not sure which is more hopeless at this point.

And in other topics, I've gotten a fairly large order recently for the mini pretzels (about 600 of them) and OMG it's so not a fun time. It is taking forever to do them for some reason and I've run into multiple issues. My wholesaler has been out of the required sprinkles, the pretzels have been too big for the desired packages, resulting in me needing to go a size up, the type of cereal wasn't right at first, so we had to change to a different one.

I'm not totally complaining, because I like the company I'm doing these for, but at some time when you own a business you wonder if time involved is worth more than actual money paid.

Lots going on in the coming weeks...gearing up for the holidays. I can't believe it's Fall already. I love the cold temps for candy making, but I do miss the sunny warm days.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Fall inspired cooking

While on vacation in North Carolina, I saw a road side stand with a huge sign out front that said "Our own Sweet Potatoes!" I was intrigued at the idea of using fresh, locally grown sweet potatoes so I snapped up a pound or two and took them back to the house not having a clue what I was going to do with them.

One night for dinner, my sister in law, Dari, was making some fried pork chops, and we decided that roasted sweet potatoes would go well with them. I cubed them and added a little oil, butter, brown sugar, fresh chopped garlic and black pepper. Roasted them in the oven on 450 for about an hour, and they turned out ridiculously delicious. The edges caramelized and were a bit chewy. Everyone loved them, and now my affair with sweet potato has followed me home.

At our local Amish market, Schmuckers, I saw some freshly picked sweet potatoes and couldn't resist. But instead of making the same dish as I had in NC, I decided to look up cheesecake recipes using sweet potatoes. Sure enough...I found one.

So on Friday, I had nothing to do, well actually I had a crap load to do, but nothing that actually had a deadline. I took that as a sign to just bake the day away.

The cheesecake called for graham cracker crust, a sweet potato filled middle layer and a praline topping. The crust went smoothly, but I had some issues with the sweet potatoes. Mostly my issues were that I apparently can't read.

I had already peeled and cubed the potatoes and baked them for about an hour before I realized I was supposed to bake them before peeling them. This meant that my potatoes were tough and hard to puree. The cheesecake ended up tasting good, just a little more texturey than desired. The praline topping made the dessert and hid any cracks that popped up despite my best intentions. I attempted a mousse for the top, similar to what I do on my White Chocolate Raspberry cheesecake. I used a vanilla instant pudding and added nutmeg, but the flavors didn't go well with the more mild tasting cheesecake. It was almost like an eggnog flavor, maybe better for a pumpkin pie flavored cheesecake. Next time I think I'll just do a cheesecake flavored mousse with a bit of vanilla bean.

This recipe is a keeper though, and I think I'll make it for a thanksgiving event.

In addition to making the Sweet Potato Cheesecake, I made my Butternut Squash Soup. This soup calls for Butternut Squash, but I've always used it in combination with Acorn as well. It is a delightful, but rich soup that always hits the spot on a cool autumn day.

All that was missing from the day was making something with pumpkin....hmmm. Muffins sound pretty good about now. With a nice praline crunch to go on top, maybe even a shortbread crust layer...I may have to get back in the kitchen.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Got ya singin' it!

My husband and I have this thing that we've done forever. I have no idea where it all started, perhaps he started it in college with his Dewey Geek friends. But either way, we've done it for as long as I can remember.

Basically you just start singing a song. The dumber the song, the better. And once the other person starts singing it you say "Got ya singin' it!" It's awesome when you can get someone singing a song like "Karma Chameleon" or "Jimmy Crack Corn".

But last night I was singing a little ditty from one of my favorite bands of all time...Ratt. Do not judge me.

So, there I was singing "Round and Round" and pretty soon my 5 year old, Joshua, was singing it. Mark and I looked at each other and yelled..."Got ya singing it!". We both nearly peed ourselves laughing so hard. Joshua had no clue why we thought it was so funny.

Personally I think it's fantastic that my son clearly has great taste in music.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Field Trips, Fevers and Fast deliveries

Just another day in my house.

It began at 4 a.m. this morning. My son Jacob, who had gone to sleep early last night with a low grade fever, woke me up wanting to go downstairs. I didn't fight him on this, because I never win. We packed up a comfy blanky and a teddy bear and landed ourselves on the sofa in front of spongebob. We were both back to sleep in a matter of minutes.

Joshua woke up at 7 and then my day began again. He was very excited because his daddy was taking him on a field trip with his kindergarten class to the Dekalb County Fair. In between getting him ready for the field trip and keeping an eye on Jacob's fever, I was trying to get myself into some kind of decent appearance for my first meeting with the owner of our client the Espresso Gallery.

Mark usually delivers the pretzels to them, but I wanted to meet her, and he was going to be gone on the trip, so I had planned to drop the pretzels off myself this time.

Got a snack for Joshua, some kleenex just in case the farm animals triggered his allergies, and his back pack ready to go. Mark was just down the street when I realized they forgot his back pack. Thank God for cell phones! I rushed it out to them, said goodbye for the fifth time that morning, and two of my family members were on their way to having a nice day.

Back inside to check on Jacob...still practically comatose on the couch. He just kept saying, "I hurt." I was beginning to worry that it was something like appendicitis or a bladder infection, but then I realized that I was also coming down with a sore throat and aches, and seriously doubted the possibility that I'd caught a bladder infection from him. That made me feel a little better knowing that he just had the flu. But, neither Motrin nor Tylenol were making a difference. Usually one or the other gets them back to normal feeling within a few hours, but this had been over 12 hours and no change.

I managed to pull myself together with a quick, somewhat professional looking pony tail. I finished getting the order together for the 4 coffee shops and was ready to walk out the door when my cell phone rang.

It was one of our best clients, however, they are also our most spontaneous clients. It is not unusual for them to call on a Monday and want 200 pretzels by Tuesday afternoon. Today was no different. They wanted a quick order of about 24 pretzels and 4 bags of bark by today.

Thankfully I had just made up a bunch to have on hand just in case. I left the house with my 3 year old just in his diaper and a t-shirt...but wrapped in a comfy blanket. Swung by the shop to pick up the order for the 4 Espresso Galleries and gather the new last minute order. Realized I had no idea how to get to the Espresso Gallery corporate offices and no way to contact Mark on the field trip. The owner of the store was unavailable as well. I searched their name on my trusty iPhone web browser, mapped out the location, and found it within a few minutes. Then, headed to deliver my other order in record time.

By the time we got back home, I was feeling a little run down, but Jacob was starting to perk up. One sucker and a few gold fish crackers later and the boy is practically back to normal.

After weeks of driving me crazy, my craft area finally got my attention today, and I began organizing it. Jacob made his way to the table and started getting into everything and singing...I knew then that he was going to be just fine.

A very crazy start to a somewhat typical day. Being a business owner is certainly never boring.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Oh blogging, how I've neglected you.

I fully intended to get back home from North Carolina and post a brief overview of how our time was, and to complain about how horrible my kids were, but it seems life had other plans.

Being gone for a week meant putting some business things on hold, and now I'm playing catch up. Plus, we have gotten several orders, some big, that need finishing in the next few days.

I am thrilled to be this busy already. Actually, we've been consistently busy all year, but this is a great indication of what kind of holiday we have waiting for us. With the addition of the new products, especially the caramel apples, we have been able to reach new people and different budgets.

I'm excited about the next few months, and hopefully I'll actually get around to posting regularly again.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tickled Pink.

We got to North Carolina and to our beach house today. All I can say is that I am never coming home! We arrived just shortly after hurricane/tropical storm Hannah passed through. We weren't affected much, other than a later time of entry to the house, and lots of sand blown all around the deck chairs and fence.

But, the ocean is crazy right now. I've never been near the ocean during hurricane season, and especially not right after one, so it is quite the experience. The waves are huge and it's very windy and loud. I am loving it.


The boys are enjoying playing with all of their cousins, and running around like mad men. Luckily for me there are lots of adults (some sober) to keep a watch on them too. It's a big house, and easy to get lost in.


I plan to get some work done here, but it's going to be a bit harder than it was at the lake cottage. There's a slight difference between a tiny old lake cottage with orange shag and olive counter tops, and this 3 story, 8 bedroom mansion on the beach.


Seriously plotting the ways I can make enough money to own this thing...and prostitution is on the list....just kidding mom! I only wrote the words "call girl". Just kidding there too. Okay, maybe not.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Hurricanes

We are planning our annual trip to the Outer Banks this week. With our leave day being Friday, I have a lot to do. Worrying about which hurricane is going to hit us first wasn't exactly top on my list when I first made it, but it has quickly landed there. I'm not sure if I'm terrified or excited. I've never witnessed a hurricane. I've had my share of tornado warnings, and seen a tornado up close and personal once though. At least a hurricane gives you advance notice, and we'll have time to escape if need be, but still...kind of puts a damper on the whole fun in the sun thing.

And in preparation for our leave, I've had to get a lot of business details under control. I always like to let my wholesale clients know in advance that I'll be leaving in case they need something while I'm gone. It has happened in the past where I get an order while on vacation. I can't drive home to fill any orders this time, so it's plan ahead or get nothin'!

Many of them ordered right away, and a few waited until the last minute, but I've got everybody taken care of. Of course there's the chance that I'll get an internet order, but I'm not too worried about that. Those are usually pretty flexible.

We've had several big orders lately and a few web orders too. Nothing too out of the ordinary, but it keeps me on my toes. With Joshua being in Kindergarten, it has really given me a nice chunk of time to work and get things on a more organized level. It seems like it should be common sense, but I hadn't really realized how much more hectic things are with two kids.

Joshua has always been my quiet, obedient child. He doesn't really seem to take up much of my time or require a lot of attention, like Jacob does, but now that he's in school I'm noticing just how much time he actually did occupy. All the times I have to stop what I'm doing to watch him do some crazy stunt or look at his video game or get him juice/food etc. Not to mention all the times I just randomly stop to hug and kiss the heck out of him, or push him on the swing outside.

Kind of throws a kink in your focus, which can really slow down progress on any project. Now that he's not here, and Jacob seems to have calmed down quite a bit, I'm able to focus and get more done in a shorter amount of time. I have lots of leftover time to play with Jacob, and then by the time school is out, I'm refreshed and ready to handle Joshua and all of his crazy antics.

Who knows, I might actually get some more marketing done for DipSticks. Lately I've just been keeping up with what comes my way, I haven't actively been trying for new business. And, I'm even starting a second business...because I'm insane....so that is taking up a bit of my creative energy too. It's not the same kind of business, so it won't interfere or take any attention away from DipSticks, but it will give me something to do during the day.

I'll post more about that after vacation. I hope to have it finalized by then, and perhaps even a new client or two. Seems like hurricanes come in many forms...

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Seriously not that busy.

I haven't blogged regularly since Joshua started school. You'd think that would mean that I'm so swamped that I haven't had time, but it's actually the opposite.

I have really been enjoying the time I have to spend with Jacob. He used to be the biggest pain in my ass. No, seriously. There have been numerous days where I calculated the process and potential pain of putting him back where he came from...or, at the very least, running away to join the circus where I could at least get cotton candy for my troubles.

But since we've had full days together, we've been traveling the town and doing all kinds of things that I never would have attempted a few weeks ago. In a store full of nick knacks...he was the perfect angel. Everyone going ga ga over his cute face, and his new race car shaped shoes.

In one day we hit three whole stores and a fruit stand! Beat that! And the only grief I had was that I had to keep telling him "It's a watermelon!" "It's a watermelon!" "Still..a watermelon!" But, otherwise, he was a perfect angel.

He's been playing with lots of blankets at home. At any given moment, if you walk into my house, there are at least 8 blankets confiscated from various parts of the house, all piled into a nest for him to sit in the middle of...or my favorite is when he straightens one out, piles all of the dog's toys on it, and steers it like it's an airplane. Or sometimes he says "All aboard" indicating how much of a multi-tasker that blanket can be.

Maybe it's the lack of peer pressure since Joshua isn't around. He doesn't feel like he needs to act up, or maybe Joshua is the instigator, but either way, I'm certainly not going to pinch myself.


Monday, August 25, 2008

Frustration worthy?

There's this little website I know, called http://www.dipstickspretzels.com/. I've kind of become familiar and attached to this URL, considering I purchased it for my business back in 2002.

I picked that name because http://www.dipsticks.com/ was taken. It wasn't being used, mind you, just reserved and "For sale", presumably in the hopes that some car parts manufacturer or auto store would want it. When I approached the owner of this site about buying it from them the exact reply I received from a nice man in Shri Lanka was "We'll entertain the sale in the form of a five figure offer." Considering a typical URL costs less than $20 for a year, my exact reply to this nice, but clearly opportunistic man, was "Well, if by five figures you mean $100.57, then we might have a deal." I never heard back from him again. Was it something I said?

So, I moved on and thought long and hard about what other URL I could use for my newly forming business. I thought http://www.dipsticksgourmetpretzels.com/ was too long. I thought http://www.dipsticksllc.com/ was too formal, not to mention boring as hell.

So, I went with http://www.dipstickspretzels.com/ and was content with that until about a year ago. I had a group of students from IPFW's business dept. helping me with some marketing, and one of them brought to my attention a web site called, and pay close attention here, http://www.dipstickpretzels.com/. Did you see that? The "s" is missing after dipsticks. That tiny little spelling change has been the bane of my existence for quite awhile. The site is poorly constructed and the pretzels they offer are much different, with far less variety than my own.

They have changed absolutely NOTHING about this site in the last year that I've noticed, and there are spelling errors and bad grammar all over the main page. Don't even get me started on the graphics.

I emailed the owner of this site back in the fall. I politely mentioned that her similar URL was causing confusion to my customers and would she be interested in changing her name? I offered to pay for any fees that would occur due to this change as well. Her reply: "I have the same problem."

I took that as a no.

Since then, I have had to make sure that when I give someone my email address or URL, that I stress the fact that there is an "S" at the end of dipstick. But, I still get people calling me saying that I hadn't replied to an email, or that they mailed me something and I never got it, or that they couldn't find my pumpkin pie flavor on the site. After a brief moment of confusion, it usually hits me square in the face that, yes, indeed, they have forgotten the "S".

How much business have I lost because of this tiny difference? How much business might she have gained as well? I may never know. I keep secretly hoping that she won't renew her URL this time and I'll snatch it up too.

So, what's a business owner to do? How do I solve this issue, or is there no way to fix it? Maybe I could change it to dippitydodah.com or dipsticksareyummy.com or damngoodpretzels.com.

What do ya think? Should I change my URL, or just play the hand I've been dealt and hope the other party drops out of the game?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Deep Dish Plum Pie

I had a chance to make the deep dish plum pie, finally. I was a bit nervous because it was for Mark's family. Not only had I never made a fruit pie, other than lemon meringue, but had never tried the lattice top that I was planning on attempting.



I bought some deep dark plums, and couldn't wait to see how red my pie turned out because of them. But, the first cut into the plums and I knew they wouldn't work. Most of them were either mushy, or had what looked like a worm canal all the way through that was hard and dry.



The rest of them had a hard, white spot in the center, so I just threw them all out....had Mark stop and get some more on the way home and hoped for the best.



I cut into one of the new plums, and they were white all the way through, and a bit on the hard side. I nearly puked. In just a few hours Mark's family was coming to dinner and the one thing I was looking forward to the most was turning out to be a disaster before it even started.



Not one to give up easily, I called Williams Sonoma and explained my problem. They said the pie may not turn out as red, but should taste good anyway. So, I plugged away and sliced up all these white plums, tossed them in sugar and cinnamon, and placed them gently in my freshly rolled pie crust.


I should say that the pie crust was almost a disaster too. I was doubling the recipe, and remembered to double everything except the butter and water. Kind of important parts. I didn't realize it until after I had cut in the butter and started adding more and more water to get it to pull together.

Then, after I realized that I had forgotten the double butter, I had to cut more of that in, and then try to remember how much water I had already added. Since I'm not an expert baker, and since I had heard pie crusts are a bit temperamental, I feared for the worst. It all pulled together fine, and I just decided that it was going to be okay even if the crust was a bit tough. I rolled it out and then cut my strips for the lattice top and criss crossed like a pro. It was very fun actually, and turned out okay for a novice, I think.

Despite the white insides, the pie filling turned out a beautiful bright red. I was very happy to see that, since that was almost the best part of this pie. Besides the sweet tart flavor that took you by surprise, it was that you could get such a beautiful red pie from purple plums that really made the biggest impact.

Everyone loved this pie, and the crust was ridiculously flaky despite my best intentions! I'd say this is definitely going to be a staple around here from now on. It was quite simple, but looked and tasted very impressive. I wish plums were available, in season I should say, all year.

The Recipes

Basic Pie Dough

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 T. sugar

1/4 tsp. salt

8 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 inch cubes

3 T very cold water

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until the texture resembles course corn meal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas. Add the water and mix with a fork just until the dough pulls together.

Transfer dough to a work surface, pat into a ball and flatten into a disk (no need to refrigerate). Lightly flour the surface then flatten the disk with 6-8 gentle taps of the rolling pin. Lift the dough and give it a quarter turn. Lightly dust the top of the dough or the rolling pin with flour as needed, then roll out into a round at least 12 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Makes enough for one 9-inch single crust pie or one 10 inch galette.

Deep Dish Plum Pie

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 T. cornstarch

1/2 t. ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

2 1/2 pounds plums, pitted and sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 5 cups)

1 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 rolled out pie crust, doubled

Vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)



Directions:

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt. Set aside.

Place the plums in a large bowl, sprinkle with the sugar mixture and toss to distribute evenly. Immediately transfer to a deep dish pie plate that has been lined with pie dough. Dot the plum mixture with butter.

Carefully position the dough, however you want it, over the plums. Trim the edge neatly, leaving 1 inch of overhang, then place over the fruit, folding the overhang under and pressing against the sides of the dish to seal. Refrigerate the pie until the dough is firm, 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, position a rack in the lower third of an oven, and preheat to 375 degrees F.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperate to 350 and continue baking until the crust is golden and the filling is thick and bubbling about 50-60 minutes more. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature or rewarm in a 350 oven for 10-15 minutes just before serving.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

One down...12 more to go.

Monday was Joshua's first day of real school ever. Sure, he's done preschool, but this is the big time. And not only did he start Kindergarten...it is officially all day Kindergarten in my neck of the woods.

Lucky for me, I had a whole lot of things to do and people to see yesterday, so I barely had a chance to reflect on the monumental occasion. He was very excited to get there that morning, and when I missed the right entrance and had to go around the block he said, "Mommy! Hurry up or school will be closed!"

As I drove away and watched him in my rear view mirror, he jabbered happily away to the nice lady who was walking him to the door. He didn't need me any more. Not an easy thing to accept as a mom, and especially not for a control freak mom who will probably duke it out with any potential girlfriends for most affection. Yep, I'm that mom.

When I picked him up from school he was very happy to see me and said he wanted to play video games. I asked how school was and he said, "Good. But, mom...there are no computers. There are ZERO computers." We celebrated the moment with Dairy Queen, the official first day of school tradition starting now.

Today I had more time to think about him being gone. It was a bit more sad when I watched him walking all by himself this time to the front door. Apparently these 5 year olds don't need coddling much beyond the first day. "Get out there and figure it out kid!" I know they have to grow up, and I'm thrilled that he's reached this milestone, but man it's hard letting go.

I thought about him all day and wondered if today would be better or worse. I was able to walk over to get him this time, and the brightness on his face when he came bursting out of the front doors made all my worrying seem beyond ridiculous. He was so happy and talked about school and Mrs. Ritenour and the kids all the way home.

I suppose the first day of school will get better the older he gets. Or maybe it will get worse. When he's 16 and driving himself to school, and embarrassed that his mom wants to take a picture of him, I will be sad all over again...but this time for a different reason.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Some days....they be wasted.

Yesterday was a big day of nothing. I had plenty to do. And I did accomplish a thing or two, but for the most part, I seriously walked from room to room and stared.

I opened the freezer like 400 times. Not sure what I was looking for, and never actually getting anything out of the freezer, but boy I kept looking anyway.

Nothing sounded good enough to eat. Nothing sounded fun enough to do. I wasn't tired enough to sleep, but I wasn't energetic enough to exercise.

I was too tired to read, though, so I didn't even bother with that. And the kids were occupying the TV, so I didn't get to do that. Basically, my day, an entire ten hours of my life, consisted of me roaming my own home searching for nothing.

I felt guilty, because I'm usually so active and I definitely had things that I could have done. But I couldn't even motivate myself to change out of my PJ's, let alone work on a real project.

Do you have days like that? When everything on the surface seems fine. You're technically happy, but yet for some reason the rest of your body is telling you that something is off.

I was a rambling woman...for a brief moment, but now it's time to get back in the game.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Yin with the Yang

Yesterday I received an email from the owner of the little shop in North Dakota who had inquired about the pretzels a few weeks ago. They loved the pretzels, have decided to go with a smaller company that would allow them to use private label. Private label is basically where a company such as mine puts another companies logo on the item to make it look like it is from that company. I wouldn't be interested in that because I'm trying to develop a brand and an image for DipSticks, and that's kind of counterproductive.

But, the good news is that the Chef at the hotel in Columbus Ohio, placed a nice sized order to be shipped soon. Perhaps this client will become as fruitful as our other hotel.

If you're going to get bad news, it's always nice to balance it with a little good...don't ya think?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

DipStick pretzels are candy. Really.

I submitted a sample of pretzels to a candy blog back in January/February. She is one of, if not the, best known candy bloggers in the country. I was very excited when she replied and said that she loved the pretzels, but she wasn't sure when she would blog about them.

Months passed, and sporadically I would see DipSticks on her "on deck" list of soon to be blogged about items, only for my name to disappear again in a few days. With this back and forth of excitement and let down, I was getting tired.

I quit checking the blog so frequently, assuming I'd realize when she had finally blogged about them once I started getting more hits to my site. But, that never happened. So, I checked her blog a few weeks back and noticed a poll on her site asking her visitors to vote on whether chocolate covered pretzels were considered candy. Considering her blog is only about candy...I knew where this was going. I immediately voted "YES!!!" chocolate pretzels are candy, but unfortunately I was in the minority. Apparently most people, or at least the majority of those visiting a candy blog, believe that a pretzel dipped in chocolate is not considered candy. I'm also assuming that this means she won't be reviewing my pretzels after all.

But here is where I take issue. Is a candy bar considered candy? What is a candy bar made of? Nuts, toffee, caramel....uh, yeah. Sounds familiar doesn't it? And, if you look at Hershey's Take 5 candy bar that has pretzels, chocolate, nuts and caramel, you could very well just call my pretzels a candy bar. In fact, many of my customers have described the pretzels as a "candy bar on a stick."

So, what does this mean? Probably nothing. Probably just that I need to find a blog that also discusses nuts and snack items, instead of just candy. I don't know if my persuasive abilities are good enough to convince a renowned candy blogger to discount her many voters and review my product anyway. And, on top of that, she may not give them a positive review. And, even more on top of that, what would her review, good or bad, really do for my business? Sure, a positive review would boost sales for a brief time, but it probably would die off eventually. And a bad review wouldn't effect me at all.

It's more than likely just an ego thing. I really dislike when people tell me they make pretzels "just like yours", or have seen store X carry pretzels "just like yours" and then ultimately finding out they are "just like" mine--oh--except that there's no caramel or anything rolled in that caramel. So, you're saying you dip a pretzel rod in chocolate and that is the same thing as what I do? That's like saying you can make a car, except that it has two wheels, and no engine. Exactly the same thing.

I want everyone to know that these pretzels are more than just a stick dipped in chocolate. They are truly a one of a kind experience, that has risen above the usual. A candy bar, with a convenient pretzel handle so that you don't get your hands dirty. What could be better than that?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Taking a spin.

Awhile back I posted about my display options for the pretzels. And when I picked up our newest client, The Espresso Gallery, that was a big issue. We discussed some of the possibilities, and knew immediately, because of their decor, that a wicker basket was out of the question.



I picked up some cd storage bins, that were made of a silver mesh that I thought would go nicely with their contemporary look, but once I got them home and placed some pretzels in them, it was obvious that they wouldn't work. At the Espresso Gallery, our product would most likely be shelved high up on top of the bakery display cases, which meant that you'd never see anything but raffia if we put the pretzels in these cd bins. We needed something that would showcase the pretzels better, and allow people to see what they were immediately.



So, we looked at some other choices of displays from a catalog, ordered a few, and tried them out. The first one was white, and had white plastic hooks. Kind of (a lot!) cheesy, and not exactly the look I was going for. It was a flat unit, and I just couldn't deal with the plastic hooks.



While my other client, The Surface, has the exact display units I want, we couldn't find them anywhere. There's a good chance they were custom made, as they got them from an auction at a clothing store chain. I contacted the owner of The Espresso Gallery and discussed our options. After looking through some catalogs that were on her desk, she actually found something that she liked. We did the measurements, and decided to give them a try.




It's a tall black spinner counter top display unit, and it holds about 40 of the 4" pretzels at a time. It's taller than I had pictured, but it will actually work out well, and allow us to also display bags of pretzel bark, or caramel apples under the pretzels, or we can hang the 8" pretzels and bags of 3 pack marshmallows very nicely.

I'm also not 100% excited about our sign that goes on top of these. We obviously did them ourselves, which is even more apparent when you see them up close. But, we're going to try these out first, and then if they are keepers, we'll invest in some good quality signage.

We deliver these this week, so it will be awhile before we know for sure how it works, but hopefully these are a perfect fit.



Trial and error, baby, that's what it's all about...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Pecan Pie....Not just for Thanksgiving anymore.

When I created the Pecan Pie pretzel a few years ago, I assumed it would be a holiday only flavor. But for some reason, ever since Hallmark sold them around the holidays, they've become a permanent fixture there.

In their last order, they included several Pecan Pie for each store, and it got me thinking. Does anyone eat Pecan Pie during the summer? I'm not even sure why people don't eat pecan pie all year round, but seriously, who does?

And why not? Pecans are certainly available all year long, and corn syrup is a grocery staple. Pie crusts are obviously available or easily made, so what's the big deal?

Maybe because it's a heavy pie, and summer is for light fruit pies. That's probably it, but what the heck, let's eat Pecan Pie all year long. Or, just get your Pecan Pie pretzels at a local Hallmark...even better.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A different kind of pie

Last night I attended my fourth cooking class at Williams Sonoma, or is it fifth? I have blissfully lost track.


This time the focus was on homemade pizzas. We learned a basic, thin crust pizza dough, and a tomato sauce made from scratch. With those two foundation ingredients in place, we created three different pizza style dishes.


The first one was Pizza Quattro Formaggi. With four kinds of cheese, I was in heaven. Fresh Mozzarella, Smoked Mozzarella, Fontina and a fresh Parmigiano Reggiano that I think the Chef wanted to makeout with right there in front of us. No seriously. The dude was really into that cheese.


With prosciutto and basil sprinkled on top, our pizza was complete. Although, even after eating two slices and never getting a single piece of prosciutto, it was a very tasty, light pizza. Our pizza sauce was chunky and seasoned with just the right amount of oregano, thyme and basil, and mingled perfectly with the rest of the toppings. The crust was chewy and crisp, with a nice buttery taste.


Next up on our Italian journey were Pizzettes with Garlic, Mushrooms & Goat Cheese. And when I say garlic, I mean 32 cloves of garlic. Thankfully I didn't have a hot date last night...but wow was I prepared for a major vampire attack.


Actually, the garlic cloves were caramelized in a pan of hot olive oil first, and each pizzette got two cloves, so it wasn't like I ate 32 fresh garlic cloves. In fact, when you bit into one of the cloves, it was surprisingly sweet and mild. But you'd have to ask my husband if my breath was also sweet and mild...


With the addition of caramelized shallots, wild mushrooms and fresh basil, these mini pizzas were a unique taste bud tantalizer, but maybe not my favorite item of the evening. The chef got off track a bit from the recipe, and didn't brush the dough and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, which would've have made it a bit more flavorful. And, he didn't cook the mushrooms first, which would've brought out the flavor more. It didn't help matters for me either that each piece I had barely had any toppings. I didn't hold a grudge that I was given two pieces of pizza with NO prosciutto, and two pieces of pizzette with four times more crust to topping ratio. Nope, not upset at all. Not one bit.


The final dish of the evening, and the one that helped the class to run an hour over scheduled time, was the Sausage and Artichoke Calzone. Using the same exact dough and sauce, the chef added a jar of grilled marinated artichoke hearts, more of that temptress Parmigiano Reggiano, fontina and basil. Technically he wasn't supposed to put the sauce inside the calzone, and so he did one with and two without. I had a piece of each, and preferred the one without the sauce inside. I'm not sure if it's because I was overloaded on the sauce already, or if it was just better without it. While I was initially excited about the grilled artichoke hearts, they actually tasted just like regular old marinated artichoke hearts.


Overall, this class was fun, but honestly I expected a bit more. I had really hoped we'd play around with the crust, maybe do more than one kind, or add herbs, cheese, or anything at all to the dough to make it creative. I'm sure as a time saver, the chef opted to do just the one, but still.


And, the sauce was good, but a bit overpowering to have on each item. It wasn't a smooth sauce, because, yet again, the chef went off track and used fresh tomatoes and onions. This resulted in a nice chunky sauce, but if it would've been pureed, or had he used the called for canned tomatoes, it would've blended in better without adding so much texture.

I'm very glad to have taken this class. I did learn a lot about pizza dough, and how to form it, and even why it's good to toss the dough in the air. Something technical about the centrifugal force...only Alton Brown knows for sure, but whatever the reason, I'm tossing that baby when I make my own.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Individual Lemon Meringue Pies

You all saw this coming....

Of course I had to make my Lemon Meringue Pie this weekend. How could I not after all that pie discussion at my class the other night. Instead of making one big pie, however, I decided to make 4 individual ones using my mini cheesecake spring form pans.


I started with my basic pie crust recipe and pressed the dough up the sides of the pans, baked them until golden, and then once they cooled, I removed the cheesecake pan. I highly recommend removing it at this step, because once the meringue is baked on and you remove the pans, it is disastrous. Take my word for it.





Since the chef at Williams Sonoma recommended I use a double boiler for the custard, I started out using one, but quickly realized that my recipe really needed to boil, and I wasn't able to achieve that with the double boiler. Kind of ironic. So, after stirring the ingredients for a few minutes, I made a last minute decision to transfer everything to another heavy pot. I boiled this mixture as usual, added my eggs, stirred for 4 more minutes, then finally turned off the heat and added butter and lemon juice. This time, for some reason, my custard didn't stick to the bottom of the pan. I am not sure if it's because I started the process in the double boiler, or if it's because I have new pans and they worked better than the ones I've used before. But either way, my custard turned out way better this time than any time before. No lumps. Smooth as silk.

This time, I added half fresh squeezed lemon juice and half bottled lemon because I chickened out. On my recipe I have in bold, underlined words. "REAL LEMON!!" And, by real lemon I did not mean actual real lemons from the tree, I meant the fake bottled kind called Real Lemon. So, I was a bit scared to do 100% fresh juice, even though I knew better.

It turned out great, but next time I will without a doubt use a full amount of the freshly squeezed lemon juice.


My meringue always turns out, in fact I'm not quite sure why people are so afraid of it. I like my meringue high, and I love the little toasted brown tips the best.

I love watching how the egg whites start as nothing, and just because you whip some air into them, they start to take form. With the addition of some sugar and cream of tartar, Viola! you've got meringue beautiness. Yes that's a word.








And, the final product tasted as great as it looked.


The only unfortunate part is that no one in my family, except my dad of course, likes Lemon Meringue Pie, which means I end up eating a lot of it, or in this case, giving it away to anyone who will take it.

In this mini form, it is much easier to share anyway.
Pie Crust
1 1/2 cups flour
2 T. sugar
1/2 t. salt

mix the above well, and then add

1/2 cup oil
2 T. milk

Form into a ball and press into pie pan. Bake at 475 for 10 minutes, or until edges are just turning brown. Be sure to press sides of dough up the edge of pie pan.

Lemon Meringue Pie
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 1/2 T. cornstarch
3 T. flour
1/4 t. salt
1 1/2 cup hot water
3 slightly beaten egg yolks, save the 3 remaining egg whites for the meringue
2 T butter, cut into squares
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

In a saucepan, mix sugar, cornstarch, flour and salt. Gradually blend in the water. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium. Cook and stir for 8 minutes more. Remove from heat. Stir a small amount of the hot mixture into the egg yolks to temper. Return this to remaining hot mixture. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low. Cook and stir 4 minutes longer. Remove from heat. Add butter. Gradually add the lemon juice. Cover entire mixture with plastic wrap, being sure to press the wrap directly onto the surface of the custard. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Pour into cooled pie shell, and allow to come to room temperature.

Meringue
Beat the remaining 3 egg whites with 1 t. lemon juice until soft peaks form. Gradually add 6 T sugar and 1/4 t. cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Spread meringue over pie, being sure to seal the edges to the pastry. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until golden. Cool thoroughly before serving.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I'm sorry...First day of what?

Yeah. So. My 5 year old son Joshua is apparently growing up. I tried my best to prevent it. But, he has been nothing but ungrateful of my attempts to slow him down and keep him from entering the real world. The world in which people might actually expect him to pick up after himself, or wipe his own butt. A very scary world, of people who may not laugh at all his quirky jokes. Some people (though not very many) may get annoyed if he says "Watch this out!" 1800 times a day.


At some point he's bound to be called a bad name. There could be kissing involved. He might suck at kick ball...given his genetic pool, there's actually a pretty good chance of that.


But, regardless of my emotional pleas to stay a kid, he has gone and grown up, and will be entering Kindergarten in less than 30 days. I signed him up for registration today, and the administrator showed me the sheet of supplies to get. It just didn't feel right. I can still vividly remember loving the pre-school shopping excursions to get just the right pencils, and the perfect binders and adorable folders with kitties or hearts, or most likely unicorns. Some books I wrapped with cut up shopping bags and decorated them with glee, anticipating the start of what could be the best year ever.


So, this is just wrong. I can't possibly be the parent of a child who is ready to embark on that journey, can I? How will I deal with it? How can I drop him off in the morning and not see him again until 3:30? How will he survive without me?


My first year in Kindergarten was so different than Kindergarten is today. It was only a half day with no homework, and we actually took a nap. I remember playing with blocks and helping to hammer in nails for the "jail" that would be used in the school carnival. I remember my first boyfriend, Jerry Barnes...Holy crap, I had a boyfriend in Kindergarten. That means Joshua could end up with a girlfriend. Oh I'm not ready for this. Maybe we should home school.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Barking up the wrong tree.

This week I've had the pleasure of making twelve pounds of S'more bark, and twelve pounds of Toffee bark.


A few months ago, the words Pleasure and Bark would not have gone in the same sentence. My first large order started out very sloppy and unforgiving and annoying and just overall not worth my effort. I had no reference point as to how much chocolate I needed, or how many ingredients, or actually how much I needed to make to end up with the correct weight amount in the end.


I ended up running to Country Kitchen multiple times for several items that I needed at the last minute. Not a pretty sight, but I got it done.


So, when I went into the kitchen to start the process of my bark order this time, I went at it with a different attitude. I had ordered lots of product from my wholesaler ahead of time, probably too much. I had plenty of pretzels, toffee, graham crackers and marshmallows too.


Once I started melting the chocolate I began to feel the relaxation that kicks in when I make the pretzels. It's like a zen zone where I just tune everything out and create. Since I had made a large batch one other time, I had a better plan this time. Believe it or not, it does take some actual thinking to get the bark the way I want it.

I prefer the S'more Bark to have the bottom layer white, with graham crackers and pretzels, and then the top layer to be milk chocolate with the mini dehydrated marshmallows in it, then I drizzle the top with white, and then milk. I think it looks best that way, and the same goes for the Toffee Bark. I start with the dark chocolate layer first that has the pretzels, and then the milk chocolate layer that has the toffee. Drizzle with milk, and then dark, and it's done.


Knowing that I prefer it this way means planning my chocolate melting process accordingly. Since most of my pretzels are made with milk chocolate, I have a tendency to melt the milk chocolate first, but obviously with the bark, I do the opposite. I have to melt the bottom layer of chocolate first, let it set up, and then melt the top layer and pour it onto the chilled bottom.


I was also able to measure the chocolate better this time. I placed 3 pounds of chocolate in each bowl, and therefore knew that each tray would be holding approximately 6 pounds of chocolate. One bowl of each kind of chocolate per tray=6 pounds. So, I made two trays of each flavor.


Probably the only slightly frustrating part is that there's a lot of hurry up and wait. With my pretzels, I can be melting chocolate while I'm dipping the pretzels in caramel, and then while I'm covering them in chocolate, I'm melting more caramel. Never any down time.


But with the bark, there's no in between step. You melt chocolate, that's about it. So, unless I get two microwaves, there's not much more I can do. If I plan ahead though, I can have other things to work on while I wait, like this blog for instance. Or, billing, letters, reading, organizing, ordering, phone calls, emails....the list is seriously endless.


So, bring on the bark orders...I'm ready for ya!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dear Dairy

This week has been a challenge. I cheated way more in a few days than I have in two months total. It started on Friday with a delicious lunch at my favorite restaurant, Pickles Cafe. It's located inside my client Plumtickled's building, and if I'm out that way, I always plan to meet someone for lunch, or just get it to go.

A panini with three cheeses, basil and tomato was perfect as usual. The tomato basil soup, a greek salad, and the mandatory chocolate peanut butter pie all satisfied. I didn't feel too bad, knowing it was all lovingly made from scratch, but it didn't stop there.

Friday night I met a friend for coffee, and had a huge Extreme Toffee Coffee Frappe from my other client, The Espresso Gallery. And of course I had to have a white chocolate macadamia scone. A nice cap to the evening.

Onto saturday, where I did fairly well until evening, when my husband and I celebrated our 11th year anniversary at the movies (The Dark Knight was freaking awesome!!) with just a tiny bit of popcorn, and then dinner at our favorite sushi restaurant. I skipped my usual shrimp tempura and settled for california roll and hawaii roll. Neither were calorie free of course, and both had something in them that wasn't candida friendly. But, it was a celebration.

Then, on Sunday, I had to make Jacob's cake. Lots of frosting to be tested, and then of course I had to eat the final product. One piece of the white cake and one piece of the chocolate mousse cake. OH, and some ice cream.

Then, this all culminated with my pie eating marathon last night. Surprisingly, I've only gained a pound or two, but my cravings were a bit stronger yesterday. Luckily I have no other celebrations coming up, so I should be able to get back on track.

The sacrifices we must make for our loved ones....

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Oh, Pie!

"When you die, if you get a choice between going to regular heaven or pie heaven, choose pie heaven. It might be a trick, but if not, mmmmmmmmmm boy!" -Jack Handy


At my third Williams Sonoma cooking class last night, we delved into the adventurous and tasty world of pies. I have always been intrigued by the intricacy of a good pie crust. I've never attempted the highly technical lattice crust top, but I have made several turkey cut outs from dough to place on top of my pumpkin pies. Sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon sugar, these adorable gobblers got rave reviews.

My very favorite pie of all time, however, is lemon meringue pie. But, oddly, not just any Lemon Meringue...it has to be my own.

Growing up, I had a neighbor who was a fantastic baker. Her name was Viola, and my dad always, always, after eating someone else's lemon meringue pie, would say "It's not as good as Viola's." I took that challenge and ran with it.

I got Viola's recipe and have been making it ever since. I still have a few things to perfect, one of which I learned last night. My custard always stuck to the bottom of my pan, no matter how I stirred, or what level the heat was on, so I asked about that last night. Turns out, I just need to be using a double boiler. No one else ever knew that I had custard issues, but I knew, and it always bothered me that is wasn't perfect. (OCD much?)

My crust on the Lemon Meringue Pie is a bit unorthodox, and not a typical roll out and trim kind of crust. It's from the old Azar's Strawberry Pie recipe and is a little on the sweeter side, and very flaky. Also, only requires 5 ingredients (flour, sugar, salt, milk and oil) that I mix right in my pie plate. I prefer it for my lemon pie, because it balances out the tartness from the lemons.

But, last night we made pie crust from scratch, and she demonstrated several crust techniques. I finally learned the lattice top, which isn't nearly as hard as I imagined. And, we did some leafs to place gently around the edge, which looked fantastic.

We made a total of 4 kinds of pies, and guess what? I sampled each and every one. That's right, 4 slices of pie. God, they had to roll me out the door. But, yum. It was worth it. Well, at least two of them were worth it.

Deep Dish Plum was the most ridiculous pie I have ever had. It is seriously edging out Lemon Meringue as favorite, but I'm going to have to make it myself to be certain. Not only did this pie have a glorious slightly tart, just perfect taste, but it also had the most beautiful red filling. The chef said the plums were standard purple variety, but somehow the cooking of them just brought out a deep crimson. Most people thought it was cherry. A plum pie is unusual, so I look forward to bringing this one to a backyard party soon, and hopefully impressing people with my handy lattice work too...

Wild Blueberry Peach was my second favorite of the night. We began the night mixing fresh blueberries and chopping the juiciest peaches and tossing them with a bit of sugar and cinnamon. The combination of the two fruits was brilliant and the juiciness was just right. I will make this one someday too.

Lemon Meringue Pie. Okay. This was a bit of a let down. When I walked in and saw that we would be doing Lemon Meringue, I was obviously overjoyed. My favorite pie, and we'd get to learn how to make it and get to eat it! I wouldn't even have to stand and stir all day to reap the rewards. Hello Heaven. But, once I took a bite, I was a bit disappointed. The use of the fresh lemons was very nice, I tend to use the bottled variety (gasp!) which I won't be doing anymore. However, the custard was, in my opinion, a bit freaky. It was much more whitish colored, maybe the word is opaque? Mine is so much more bright yellow with almost a see through look to it. More gelatinous, I guess. But this one had almost a texture to it, but yet I couldn't detect any actual texture with my tongue. It just had a thicker, more grainy without actually being grainy feel to it, and I didn't like it. My mom, who actually came with me for once, said she liked mine better, but everyone else in the room raved about it. Hmmm..I think I smell a cook off!

The one ego boosting part of this pie is that the chef said that Lemon Meringue Pie is considered the hardest pie to make. People are afraid of the meringue top I guess. But, I love making meringue, and I love making Lemon Meringue Pie. Does this make me a genius baker? Ummm..no. But, it does make me a serious Lemon Meringue Pie lover.

Cherry Almond. This one was probably my least favorite, and only because I can't do that to my beloved Lemon Meringue. Perhaps they should tie for last. This pie utilized the dark "Bing" cherries, and some finely chopped toasted almonds. I adored the almonds in this, but I would've preferred my cherries on the tart side. The ones used just had too much of a deep sweetness to them, and it kind of made for a sickeningly rich pie. Don't get me wrong, I like rich foods, especially in the dessert variety, but this just didn't add up. My mommy agreed, so there.

Overall it was a fabulous evening, and worth all the calories and miscellaneous non candida diet ingredients. My next class is on Monday, and we'll be discovering techniques to homemade pasta....that's going to be fun to look forward to.