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.