Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oh, You Shouldn't Have

We’ve accepted a New Year’s Eve party invitation from our creative hosts, mentioned previously in the blog “Warning: This Article May Contain Traces of Nuts.” I politely responded to the invitation with, “Yes, and what can we bring?” At this phase of the holiday celebration marathon, what I really mean is, “Would you like me to bring paper plates?” Instead I elicited the response, “A dessert.”

I’m stumped. Over the past two months, I’ve already frosted, dipped, whipped, baked, and sprinkled every confection in my recipe box. I need to find something that impresses the crowd and de-stresses the cook.

Scanning the Van Otis Chocolates website (http://www.vanotis.com/), I found Mini Desserts. They come in a variety of flavors including, Banana Split, Hazelnut, Cherry Dream, Latte Macchiatto, Pistachio Passion, Orange Spice, and Christmas Spice.

Each handmade dessert looks like an individual work of art. All I need to do is find a festive platter, arrange, throw some flour on my lapel, and look tired and accomplished.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Joy of Being Carded

So often I hear people make disparaging remarks about gift cards. The most common is that they aren’t thoughtful enough to be a proper gift. Bah Humbug.

I truly can’t think of anything more thoughtful than the gift of choice. Gift cards also say you cared enough about the recipient to keep them out of the return lines, and you were considerate enough to not guess their current size.

At a holiday party this past weekend, I fought hard for the only gift card that was passed around at a Yankee Swap gift exchange. Sure, other people left with a bag of coffee or the latest in goofy, singing Christmas ornaments. I left with anticipation, imagination, and possibility. The best part about my future gift card purchase - I know I’m going to like it!

Give someone something to look forward to this Christmas season. A Van Otis gift card offers possibilities such as a mid-winter treat of truffles, cashews for the New Year’s Eve party, or gourmet popcorn for the ski lodge.

Now through December 24th, take 10% OFF all Van Otis gift cards!


Friday, November 20, 2009

Bark as Good as the Bite

We need your help!

Van Otis Chocolates currently offers milk, dark, and white chocolate bark, along with their seasonal peppermint bark. Think of chocolate as your blank canvas and let those salivary, creative juices flow. What else would make for a great bark topping?

Chocolate bark is such a great concept. Broken pieces of chocolate reinforce the mindset of eating just a little bit, i.e. I only ate some pieces of chocolate, not the whole thing.

I'm personally a fan of salty items combined with Van Otis' handmade dark chocolate. Crumbled pretzels or cashews would be my pick, but this isn't about me. This is your chance to be heard.

Share your ideas below. You may see your wish come true!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Sweet Recognition

In one of my former corporate roles, I was responsible for employee recognition programs. This might sound like a very fulfilling job function. Honestly, all it did was add another layer of cynical to my already well-developed attribute of cynicism.

Think about how difficult it is to find the right gift for someone. Then, imagine what it’s like to find a gift for 200 to 2,000 people that not only expresses gratitude, but is additionally motivating.

Watches offend the chronomentrophobics. Turkeys offend the carnophobics. Gift cards offend the decidophobics. After a while, I believed that distributing a check for one million dollars to each employee would result in at least one worker’s comp claim for a paper cut.

Then one day, this cynic gifted with chocolate. Every employee received chocolate with a note of appreciation mailed directly to their home address. I sat by the phone the next day waiting for an employee to call and rant about his Save the Cocoa Bean Campaign.

As expected I did receive phone calls, but surprisingly, they were of gratitude. The chocolate provided immediate gratification. It was shared and appreciated by family members. It was a treat and surprise at the end of a long work day. Chocolate.

I empathize with those of you who are in the thankless position of distributing thank you’s. Call Sara at Van Otis (800) 826-6847; she might even send you a sample. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Confection Education
Van Otis Sweet Spot Now Open

Van Otis retail patrons can finally have the question answered, “How DO they do it?” The Sweet Spot, adjacent to the Manchester, NH candy shop, is now open to complete the sensory experience at Van Otis Chocolates.

The former Van Otis Café space located at 341 Elm Street has been transformed to share a glimpse into our handmade candy making process. See the fresh ingredients that go into every Van Otis product. Smell the confection combination that makes every product a one-of-a-kind. Taste a sample prepared in front of you by our confectioners.

This interactive setting is great for inquiring kids and adults alike! The Sweet Spot also offers a leisurely seating area and coffee station.

Stop into the Sweet Spot today and see for yourself why Van Otis was voted as New Hampshire’s Best for the eighth year in a row.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sugar, Spice, and Everything Nice

Most New Englanders choose to endure tough winters because they love the very in-your-face change of seasons. Fall is truly my favorite. I love the vibrant colors, a slight evening chill, football games, and pumpkin-infused everything.

I can’t get enough of the flavors and aromas created by the combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. It’s in my coffee, candles, ice cream, and body lotion. My husband and I literally had a high-five moment when we discovered our favorite pumpkin-flavored beer on the grocery store shelves.

I seek it out knowing that candy cane and gingerbread flavors will soon oust my beloved pumpkin. Like a squirrel preparing for a long winter, I hoard pumpkin-flavored items that won’t be seen again until next fall.

I recently added two items to my seasonal stockpile: Van Otis’s White Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Spice Creams and Pumpkin Fudge. Encased in a white chocolate shell and sprinkled with sugar crystals and pie spices, the creamy pumpkin center of the pumpkin pie creams is melt-in-your-mouth good. The fudge is a more subtle blend of pumpkin flavoring and spices. The creamy, buttery fudge doesn’t leave a greasy coating in your mouth like most fudge does, and it’s complemented by a light cinnamon and sugar topping.

Sugar, spice, and everything pumpkin. That’s what this little girl is made of.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Totally Tubular

I remember thinking that the term “retro” meant things from the past that are now cool again. You know, it was the return of avocado green appliances, bell bottoms, and frosty-blue eye shadow. I felt like I’d been gagged with a spoon the first time I realized that those things defining my generation - music, clothing styles, slang terms - are now what constitute “retro”.

The first time I became aware of this trend was when I identified my first “remake” on the radio. I was so indignant listening to the cover band make a complete mess of the original. I thought, “What a poser.” I’ve now come to terms with the fact that my music can be heard during “way back weekends” and “the ‘80s at eight”.

The greatest blow to my aging ego occurred this past Halloween. Tweener after tweener arrived at our door dressed in their ‘80s costumes. It’s surprising enough to see styles that you once wore cycle back to the store clothes racks - but a costume? Wicked.

Retro or “old-fashioned” candy is one of the few exceptions to this disheartening evolution. As mentioned in the previous blog “Like a Kid in a Candy Store”, candy is often associated with pleasant childhood memories. In most cases, old-fashioned really refers to candy from an earlier time during our life-span rather than that from an earlier generation.

You don’t have to “eat my shorts” to reconnect with your youth. Just eat some candy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Don't Sugar Coat It

According to the American Diabetes Association, a total of 23.6 million Americans had diabetes in 2007. That’s 8.0% of our total population. Even more concerning is the statistic that 57 million people were diagnosed at that time with “pre-diabetes”. It’s pretty clear that without health improvements gained by diet, exercise, and/or medicinal intervention, this population is going to give that 8.0% a big bump - and not for the better.

What a chocolate buzz kill.

Thankfully abstinence from the pleasure of sweets isn’t the only option for those who are combating or hovering near diabetic conditions. Sugar-free options exist and even better news, REALLY GOOD sugar-free options exist.

Bypass the dust-covered bags of chalky chocolates hanging on the store-chain pegs and head to Van Otis Chocolates in Manchester, NH or http://www.vanotis.com/ for some sugar-free treats. They offer many of their hand-made confections in sugar-free form.

You can enjoy novelties such as their award-winning Swiss Fudge, Cashew Clusters, Coconut Clusters, Almond Butter Crunch, Macadamia Caramel Patties, Cashew Caramel Patties, Almond Bark, Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Almond Butter Toffee, Milk Chocolate Raisin Clusters, Dark Chocolate Peppermint Patties, Orange Sherbet Creams, Vanilla Butter Creams, Black Raspberry Sherbet Creams, Maple Walnut Creams, Raspberry Jellies, Orange Jellies, Milk Espresso Truffles, Mint Truffles, Meltaways, Peanut Butter Truffles, Black Raspberry Truffles, and many more!

Sweeeet. (Sugar-free, of course.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm Bored

Elongate the vowel sounds, add a little whine, and there you have it – my kids’ summer theme song. I typically respond with a dramatic eye roll, but who can blame them? If you live in New England, your child is longing for outdoor activity during what has been a very dreary, rainy start of summer.

In an effort to prove that boredom can spawn creativity and imagination, we’re making a list of “Fun Things To Do When It’s Raining” - and in this economy, “inexpensive” is inferred. Of course, some of the obvious activities made the list such as visit the library, read a good book, play a board game, and my addition, take a nap. (Insert child’s dramatic eye roll.)

I was pleasantly surprised when the kids added ideas such as try a new recipe, learn to type, and organize their bedrooms. We can all benefit from such an assignment. It’s a great way to circumvent monotony, and you might even discover something new in your area.

Manchester, New Hampshire residents can add “Tour Van Otis Chocolates” to their lists. Tours are offered at the Elm Street facility every Wednesday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the summer season (June – August). Kids and accompanying adults will learn about the process of handmade confections and the best part – it’s FREE! For additional information, visit http://www.vanotischocolates.com and select “upcoming events”.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Who's Your Daddy?

Hopefully you’re not living the Mama Mia experience, and you read that as a rhetorical question - but I digress.

I honorably scoured the internet for statistics to support the following assumption – finding a meaningful Father’s Day gift is a pain in the caboose for most of us. No such research exists so I’m proclaiming my statement as fact.

Most men are hobbyists. Whether they fish, golf, hunt, boat, bike, hike, garden, read – you get the picture – they typically have outfitted their interests with all necessary equipment and accessories. It’s natural to want to purchase a gift that recognizes the hobby and professes your gift-giving prowess, but often we’re forced to bestow a specialty store gift card or bobble-headed icon with “World’s Greatest (Insert Hobby)”. There’s just nothing left to buy. He has it all.

Buying a gift for my dad is even more problematic; Father’s Day, his wedding anniversary, and his birthday all fall within a 3-4 week timeframe. Thankfully the saying, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” applies to my pop. Van Otis offers specialty items that recognize the hobbyist and his sweet tooth. I’m seriously considering the 9 oz. solid milk chocolate frame. By inserting a picture of myself, I’ve given him his two favorite things – chocolate and me!

I hope my sister doesn’t read this.

Warning: This Article May Contain Traces of Nuts

Our party hosts decided to make this past New Year’s celebration more interesting by having a wine tasting competition. Each guest was instructed to bring a covered bottle of wine from a specific country. The wine was to be accompanied by a food item and guests judged the best red, best white, and best wine/food combo. Wine-themed prizes, such as bottle openers and wine glass tags, were awarded to the winners.

This may give you the illusion of a sophisticated sort sipping expensive glasses of wine while discussing stock market trends. Honestly, it was a bunch of rural neophytes trying to branch out. Most of the crowd had a beer readied to wash away the real potential of a bad tasting vino.

There were some clear winners, and we all agreed that the food accompaniment really aided the standouts. The simplest combinations of red wine and chocolate, and one of my favorites, red wine and cashews were the best.

If you want to impress guests at your next party (or win the unfortunate set of wine glass tags that won’t wrap around your beer stein), strategically place dishes of Van Otis cashews near the conversation clusters. These cashews are extra large, giving them a well-deserved position in the appetizer category. They are also incredibly sweet; there’s no burnt or bitter aftertaste that you experience with most exaggerated shelf-life, retail nuts.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Strung Out on Chocolate

That old saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates - You never know what you’re going to get,” may not be 100% true!

While touring the Van Otis kitchen for the first time, I found stringing to be one of those “Oh, cool!” moments. I had never really looked closely at the chocolates I ate; they usually just go from box to mouth and don’t spend much time in between. What I learned was that as the chocolates come off the enrobing (coating with chocolate) line, they are individually – and still manually – marked according to what’s inside them. For example, “R” for raspberry, “O” for orange, “L” for lemon, “P” for pineapple, is initialed by a gloved hand on each and every piece. Sometimes they’re given colored toppings like the pistachio creams, which are sprinkled with green coconut. (There are too many fillings beginning with “P”, forcing creativity!)

At Van Otis this process is still done by hand. At other companies, where the chocolates are mass produced, equipment is used where a chain is dragged across the chocolates to create a particular design.

Stringing is typically a way of marking the chocolates to indicate what’s inside, and “drizzling” is a way of decorating the chocolates with opposite chocolate types (white on dark, dark on milk, etc.). Drizzling is done by dipping a dowel in melted chocolate and…well…drizzling it over another confection. Drizzling techniques are used to decorate Van Otis’ chocolate dipped pretzels, the Van Krispie and Van Oreos, etc.

Now that I know each Van Otis chocolate was created with individual care, I pause just a millisecond longer before popping it into my mouth. Mmmm…

Bar Wars

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The rebel army ate foods cultivated from their back fields and raised in their barns...I mean…spaceships. These foods provided vitamin and nutrient weaponry essential to good health and the war against disease. Mechanical production lines began to generate vacuum-packed, on-the-go options allowing the invasion of free radicals.

Clearly, I am no George Lucas; however, as we are bombarded with health information, it does read a bit like a science-fiction plot. “Anti-oxidants combating free radicals” generate imagery of flashing lights and computer-generated audios. Few people would envision broccoli digestion.

Thankfully there’s one option in the artillery that I can embrace – dark chocolate. Studies have shown that dark chocolate, eaten in reasonable quantities, increases anti-oxidants and lowers blood pressure. Cocoa phenols are the secret agent in the truffle treatment.

The next time you’re feeling like a rebel, wave your dark chocolate bar around like a lightsaber while making the associated sound effects. Use the force.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thinking Outside of the Lunch Box

In 1930, bakery manager James Dewar invented the Twinkie when he decided to make thrifty use of pans that were used for shortcake production only during strawberry season. Twinkies have been a popular lunch box item ever since with sales approximating 500 million each year.

It’s difficult to feel grown-up purchasing a snack marketed by a ridin’, ropin’, cream-filled cowboy, even with the 100 calorie packs. Van Otis Chocolates has added sophistication to this spongy treat simply by dipping it in gourmet chocolate. Chocolate Covered Twinkies are currently selling like hotcakes…er…Twinkies. Culminate your lunch box by treating yourself to Chocolate Dipped Twinkies and Devil Dogs available at Van Otis’ Manchester, New Hampshire retail store.

James Dewar was quoted as saying, "Twinkies was the best darn-tootin' idea I ever had." He might have used stronger language had he tried one dipped in gourmet chocolate.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Calculate Your Age Using Chocolate Math!

Here's a nifty little test for you to calculate your age using chocolate math.

1. First, pick the number of times a week that you would like to have chocolate (more than once but less than 10)

2. Multiply this number by 2 (just to be bold)

3. Add 5

4. Multiply it by 50 -- I'll wait while you get the calculator

5. If you have already had your birthday this year add 1759 ...
If you haven't, add 1758.

6. Now subtract the four digit year that you were born.

You should have a three digit number

The first digit of this was your original number
(i.e., how many times you want to have chocolate each week).

The next two numbers are...YOUR AGE! (Oh YES, it is!!!!!)

Monday, April 13, 2009


Scanning our pantry needs, I noticed a dust-covered jar of nonpareil capers. My first reaction was of disgust. It wasn’t the little nodules floating in murky liquid that turned me off. I happen to really like capers. It probably should have been the amount of dust collecting in my pantry, but that wasn’t it either. The leading “nonpareil” made me immediately think of chocolate. Chocolate covered capers lack appeal.

After trying to recall the culinary experiment that prompted a caper purchase, I then started to think about the word “nonpareil”. That’s one of those words that my brain mumbles. It’s kind of like the first time I saw Hermione Granger’s name in a Harry Potter book. My brain just acknowledged it and moved on. I decided I’d try to say “nonpareil” out loud. My seventh grade French teacher would have been horrified.

Pronounced, non-puh-rel, the term is defined as “having no equal” and also as the round, chocolate candy covered with sugar beads. The origin of nonpareil candy dates back to the late 1700s, when they were a cake decorating item. Today they are a candy in their own right and available in a variety of chocolates and colored sprinkles.

Unparalleled is a bold title for such a simplistic candy. But considering its 250+ year history and very subtle evolution, it certainly seems deserving.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Are You Nuts!?!

Do walnuts in a chocolate chip cookie ruin or complete it?

The marriage of chocolate and nuts would cause some people to yell, “I object!” I recall debating the union at a very early age with my grandmother. Walnuts were a staple item in all of her homemade desserts. I thought they tasted terribly bitter. If I had a nickel for every time she said, “Eat around them…”

Dr. Mehmet Oz, professor of surgery at Columbia University and a regular on the Oprah Winfrey Show, explains that kids have more taste buds which are highly sensitized. A child’s 10,000 taste buds favor bland and sweet foods, finding other foods to be bitter. This is one of the body’s evolutionary safety mechanisms for avoiding poisons found in nature. I wish I had known this as a child. My grandmother might have made nut-free cookies had I been able to argue poison avoidance.

My 3,000 adult taste buds now seek chocolate with hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, peanuts, and other fruit and coconut combos. I still don’t enjoy a walnut and on principle, won’t eat around one.

You'd Eat (Blank) if it Were Covered in Chocolate

In a previous blog I mentioned that I’m the amazing mother who arrives at events with a chocolate fountain rather than boxed cake. That’s not exactly how I described myself; however, I do secretly think that I’m deserving of tights and a cape.

The game of identifying a different and exceptional dipping item is played at every fountain event. We have found that strawberries, crispy rice cereal treats, animal crackers, pretzels, nutty granola bars, and peanut butter wafer cookies are crowd favorites. This past holiday season, we added candy canes and skewered gummy bears to the list.

It’s not as difficult to identify items that taste good as it is to find items that will properly hold the chocolate and maintain original form. Fruits such as pineapple, mandarin oranges, bananas, and maraschino cherries are delicious covered in chocolate. That is, they would be, if the warmed chocolate would stay on the items.

Other items, such as homemade cookies, tend to disintegrate if dipped directly in the flow of the fountain. This is doubly problematic since you lose your dipping item, and its remnants clog the fountain mechanisms. If you have your heart set on dipping cookies or other fragile items, you may opt for a traditional fondue pot instead of a fountain.

Van Otis is happy to suggest additional dipping item ideas. This is also great party conversation and typically will generate some surprising suggestions.

What dipping items would you recommend?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Merry Easter

Solid Chocolate Pixie Bunnies
Every year businesses try to beat the competition by offering seasonal items earlier and earlier. Any New Englander who has ever tried finding a swimsuit in July can attest to this fact as they maneuvered through the Halloween costumes to the summer clearance rack.

We’ve been eating Easter candy since early January. We’re a marketer’s dream being sucked into the vortex of brightly colored packaging during this gray season. I think subconsciously we believe this ritual will hasten spring, only to discover that Mother Nature isn’t a retailer.

When the Easter holiday finally rolls around, we’re challenged with finding candy that hasn’t been a regular pantry item. Thankfully shops like Van Otis Chocolates offer unique homemade creations that allow us to step outside of the familiar retail landscape and find something special.

Swiss Fudge-Filled Eggs

Monday, February 16, 2009

Chocolate Fountain of Youth

About two years ago, our family purchased a residential-sized chocolate fountain. It seemed a bit indulgent at the time but has become a big hit at friend and family events. It’s not unusual for invitations to request our attendance, as well as our “fifth family member”, the fountain.

At the fountain’s début, I set it up at the kids’ table and prepared a more “sophisticated” dessert for the adults. The kids were in awe. With their little backs facing the adult crowd, we began an unintended game of “red light/green light”. An adult would inch toward the table. A child (now looking more like a short Charlie Chaplin) would sense movement and turn around. The adult would stop and offer “help”. The child would refuse, and the adult would be frozen in their red light spot.

I no longer prepare a second dessert item when the chocolate fountain makes an appearance.

It only took one experience with cheap, big-box store chocolate to realize that quality chocolate is required. Good chocolate yields a beautiful flow or “curtain” that becomes a buffet table centerpiece. It also produces that warm, creamy coating that you’d expect on your dipping item. Chocolate purchased at a store that also sells car batteries, forces the fountain to gurgle and plop the waxy concoction. Waxy is also an accurate taste description. It’s a big disappointment; one we haven’t repeated.

You are guaranteed to impress a crowd at your next event by replacing that frosted cake with a chocolate fountain. Just be sure to establish dipping rules to avoid confrontations. Adults can be very childish when it comes to chocolate.

A Truffle a Day Keeps the Voices at Bay

My dear friend Jane is very health conscious. She probably hovers around 105 pounds after a Pina Colada and getting caught in the rain. I won’t debate the “nature vs. nurture” causal factors of her peak condition, but I will share that she considers broccoli a main course and running, an adrenaline cocktail.

Jane’s one daily indulgence is a piece of chocolate. I’m not talking just any chocolate. I’m talking good chocolate. She looks forward to this savory moment to get her through the rest of the working day.

Few of us self-permit such a public indulgence. We’re closet candy eaters. We apply face paint, dress in camo, and swoop into a co-workers cubicle for a handful of candy jar offerings before anyone is witness. Who doesn’t buy into the philosophical riddle “If I eat a piece of candy in a forest and no one is around to see me, do I gain a calorie?”

Jane’s approach is refreshing and effective. Coworkers enable her habit, she doesn’t binge, and she’s afforded herself a guilt-free pleasure.

Wouldn’t it be nice to indulge in some good chocolate and hear only “Mmmmm” in your head?

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

Quick…What’s the first thing you think of when you smell bread baking?

Extensive scientific research regarding the connectivity between smells and tastes to memories is available at the click of a mouse. You could dissect articles about olfactory neurons, odorant receptors, and neurosciences…snore… The fact is, smells and tastes evoke memories, and generally those memories evoke an emotion.

In this age of virtual reality, are we denying ourselves an opportunity to create sensory memories? I admit this is a heavy topic for a confectionary blog; but, consider the memory created by meeting a friend in a “chat room”. You missed an opportunity to smell a cup of coffee and see a real smile, rather than just a :0)

Van Otis Chocolates originated in 1935 and today, resides at 341 Elm Street in Manchester, New Hampshire. For over 75 years, devoted patrons have held strong memories associated with the shop’s smells, tastes, and sights. These “kid in a candy store” memories occur at age 5 and 65 because an early association was developed.

Do you have a
Van Otis memory related to Easter bunnies, Swiss Fudge, or roasted cashews? Do you remember the feeling of being surrounded by display cases filled with sweet, vibrant, textured treats? Share your sensory memories with us and stop in to create more!