Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Cards

I have done fairly well with my holiday shopping. I made a list, purchased early and online, and wrapped as I bought. I can proudly (and obnoxiously) announce that I’m nearly done. My remaining list consists of those hard-to-buy-for folks with no corresponding gift ideas.

You know the type. When you ask for gift suggestions, they reply with something like, “You don’t need to buy me a gift,” or, “Surprise me.” I’m really tempted to do just that. “Surprise! I hope you love this toilet plunger!” That might inspire more detailed answers next year.

Since the holidays aren’t about expressing sarcasm (out loud), I haven’t bought any plungers. Instead, I have decided to give the pleasant surprise of Van Otis gift cards. Van Otis gift cards are one-size-fits-all. There are so many treat options including caramels, Swiss Fudge, truffles, cashews, and popcorn, to name just a few. My gift card recipients will definitely find something that they like.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Corporate Gifting

Several years ago, I wrote a blog about my job responsibility of employee recognition. Along with this task, I was also responsible for finding the perfect holiday gift to recognize our customers and thank them for our business partnership.

I really enjoyed this part of my job but was surprised each year by the difficulty of the task. I am a highly skilled shopper with YEARS of training – just ask my husband. So finding something that expressed appreciation AND would be valued by the recipient should have been a piece of cake piece of chocolate.

The difficulty was finding a gift that contained a quality product, looked festive, and could be enjoyed by many staff members, rather than a single business contact.

Van Otis offers several corporate gift options in their gift guide that will relay your company’s sincere appreciation. Each option contains handcrafted confections and/or Van Otis’ cashews and popcorn, wrapped in elegant and festive packaging. You can check out your options at or stop by the retail shop in Manchester to place an order.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chew on This

My fraternal grandparents were very appreciative gift recipients, although somewhat eccentric. Old and worn was for daily use; new and nice was saved for a special occasion.

For years my grandfather wore slippers that were tattered, torn, and worn through the soles. Of course many family members noticed this, so he received new slippers nearly every Christmas. When my grandfather passed away, we found boxes and boxes of brand new slippers stored in his closet. We’re still unsure what would have qualified as a “special occasion” for breaking out a new pair of slippers.

I realized the degree of their appreciation for new and nice the year we gave my grandmother a new entryway rug. Shortly after Christmas, the rug was hanging on her living room wall. We tried to explain that it was a rug, not a wall hanging. Disgustedly, she responded that she certainly was NOT going to let anyone step on it.

If my grandparents were alive today, Van Otis’ new line of caramels would earn a place on their bookshelf or hanging next to their door mat. These candies are so pleasing to the eye that you may hesitate eating them, that is, until you eat your first one.

Van Otis Master Chocolatier, Jack Michael Pisciotta has created the perfect blend of innovative flavors for this new line of Gourmet Caramels. Van Otis is currently offering an introductory assortment that includes six premium flavors: Vanilla Bean, Pumpkin, Raspberry, Anise, Sea Salt, and Molasses.

Seasonal flavors, like Pumpkin, will be available for a limited time only but will be replaced with holiday-inspired flavors throughout the coming months. 

First Aid

Let’s review the contents of my first aid kit – bandages, antibiotic wipes, aspirin, latex gloves, dark chocolate, and a lancet. One of these things is clearly NOT like the others – the lancet. No one in their right mind wants me operating a sharp, pointy tool during a crisis. No one.

The other items have clear health benefits. While wearing latex gloves, you clean a cut with antibiotic wipes, cover it with a bandage, and administer aspirin and a piece of dark chocolate for the pain.

Dark chocolate has so many benefits that it should be in every first aid kit, medicine cabinet and plentiful at doctors’ offices. Van Otis has many items to choose from, so stop by their retail store or website and be prepared for your next health emergency.

Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Heart
Studies show that eating a small amount of dark chocolate two or three times each week can help lower your blood pressure.

Dark Chocolate is Good for Your Brain
Dark chocolate increases blood flow to the brain as well as to the heart, so it can help improve cognitive function. It also contains several chemical compounds that have a positive effect on your mood and cognitive health, including caffeine, a mild stimulant.

Dark Chocolate Helps Control Blood Sugar
Dark chocolate helps keep your blood vessels healthy and your circulation. It also has a low glycemic index, meaning it won't cause huge spikes in blood sugar levels.

Dark Chocolate is Full of Antioxidants
Dark chocolate is loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants help free your body of free radicals, which cause oxidative damage to cells.

Dark Chocolate Contains Theobromine
Theobromine has been shown to harden tooth enamel and helps suppress coughs.

Dark Chocolate is High in Vitamins and Minerals
Dark chocolate contains a number of vitamins and minerals that can support your health, including potassium, copper, magnesium, and iron.

Monday, October 29, 2012


One of my favorite movies of all time is Chocolat. If you haven’t seen it – DO! The acting, scenery, and storyline are fabulous. It has multiple plotlines, some dealing with serious topics, but remains quirky throughout. The authenticity of the little town and characters make you want to move there. Of course, then you’d be living on a movie set.

I won’t ruin the story for you if you haven’t seen it. But to tempt you, the gorgeous Juliette Binoche plays the main character. She befriends the amazing Judy Dench and talented Lena Olin. The movie is dripping with all things chocolate, and just when you think your sweet tooth is satisfied, in comes Johnny Depp.

One of the many chocolate items featured in the film is hot chocolate. Now, this isn’t just any hot chocolate. It’s ultra thick and has a hint of chili pepper in it.

This movie sparked my interest in chili chocolate. I was hesitant at first, imagining chocolate with strong Mexican flavor. Really, chili chocolate is nothing more than yummy chocolate with an after bite of heat in your mouth. It’s wonderful.

And because they have it all, Van Otis offers their version of spicy chocolate. Dark Volcano Bark and Milk Volcano Bark can be found at VO’s retail store in Manchester, New Hampshire. Well, I say they have it all. Johnny Depp isn’t included.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Let the Games Begin

The Olympics reminded me how important it is to train for any sport. Therefore, I started early and believe I’m prepared for fall sports season. I streamlined the time it takes me to maneuver a folding canvas chair in and out of its ridiculously compact carrying case. I can throw my voice to carry “Go Team” a fair distance. I’ve also worked my rotator cuffs so that I can swat mosquitoes in my nether region. I’m ready to play sports spectator.

If you have elementary-aged kids, they may participate in a volunteer recreational program. This is the time when the parents are divided – volunteer coach or spectator. I’ve always fallen into the spectator category. I figured I’d be much better at it than coach.

Not every parent volunteer does this type of self-analysis before raising their hand. My kids have had their fair share of well-intended volunteer coaches who carry a For Dummies book in their back pocket and yell, “Good Try!” a lot.

I never judge. I think that anyone who will give up 6-8 hours each week to teach kids how to field a baseball rather than pick dandelions deserves only gratitude.

But here’s the dilemma. What do you give these volunteers at the end of the season to express your appreciation?

Van Otis has a tasteful solution to your gifting needs. The Sweet Impressions line offers chocolate plaques for football, tennis, soccer, baseball, and music enthusiasts. Most plaques also have accompanying foil-wrapped chocolates to compliment each theme. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Van Otis Cookies

Van Otis makes the BEST handcrafted chocolates, and now they’re making cookies?!?

Nope. They're not. But you can.

I recently perused Van Otis’ retail shop in Manchester, New Hampshire with a super friendly and helpful member of the VO staff. We were on a mission to find a combination of ingredients that would take chocolate chip cookies to the next level, and I think our first attempt was a success.

I left Van Otis with a bag of chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and two 3 oz. Cranberry Almond Milk Chocolate Bars. At the grocery store, I purchased a bag of dried cranberries along with my cookie dough ingredients.

I decided which of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes - yes, I have more than one – to use for this experiment. The recipe comes from Alice Currah’s blog site, Savory Sweet Life, and it produces a flat, chewy cookie which could support my ingredients. The use of sea salt is what makes this cookie one of my favorites.

I followed the dough recipe and replaced the suggested 2 1/4 cups of semi-sweet chocolate chips with the following ingredients:
  • Two Van Otis 3 oz. Chocolate Almond Milk Chocolate bars, broken into bits
  • 3/4 cup of Van Otis chocolate-covered sunflower seeds
  • 3/4 cup of dried cranberries

The result was a flavor and texture filled cookie with the tang and chewiness of the cranberries, sweetness of the chocolate, and crunchy nuttiness of the seeds.

The next time you’re at Van Otis’ retail store or browsing their web page, think cookie not candy. What combination of Van Otis ingredients do you think would produce the perfect cookie?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Be a Winner

Every once in a while my husband and I talk about what we’d do with a major lottery prize. And like most couples who do this, we don’t actually buy lottery tickets. However, we do occasionally purchase raffle tickets to support a cause and have been winners.

My husband once bought a single raffle ticket at a hunters’ banquet and was the big winner of some fancy, schmancy gun. I wouldn’t recommend winning the grand prize and bragging about it in a room full of multi-weapon owners.

When it comes to games of chance, most people say, “I never win anything,” and they don’t enter. I’m horrible at statistical math, but I have to believe this reduces the odds. Although in my case, I once won a trip to the Women’s US Tennis Open in New York without personally entering.

My dad likes games of chance. He isn’t in a local convenience store every night buying scratch-off tickets, but he takes advantage of any free opportunity to win something.

He purchased a hairdryer, and in the box there were multiple entry forms for chances to win trips to various US Opens. He filled them out for each of our four family members, and I won.

I encourage you to be more proactive. Van Otis Chocolates offers a monthly giveaway of 1 pound of assorted chocolates. All you have to do is complete the online entry form for a chance to win delicious handmade chocolates. What are you waiting for? You could be July’s winner!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

He's #1

 I like that I can buy my dad a Van Otis Chocolate Trout for Father’s Day and don’t have to sit for six hours hoping to catch a real one.

I love the imagery of dad and daughter dipping a line while enjoying the serenity of a pond, surrounded by the music of spring peepers. However, my need for immediate gratification, fear of slimy things, and aversion to heat, humidity, and mosquitoes destroyed my angler aspirations.

I’m grateful that my sister filled the shoes (waders) of Dad’s fishing buddy. Dressed in her pink L.L. Bean fly fishing vest and carrying her matching tackle box, she’s spent many hours with our father in his favorite habitat.

This Father’s Day, I won’t be expressing my love by sitting in a canoe, smelling of bug dope. My dad will know how much he means to me when he opens a box of hazelnut truffles, Bacca Z Wine cordials, or a Number One Dad Pop. These pops come in delicious dark, milk, and white chocolate.

Check out the full line of Van Otis’s seasonal and holiday chocolates at

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


This beautiful spring weather has been lovely but confusing. For example, this morning when I barked a third get-out-of-bed warning, my daughter lifted an eyelid and said, “We have to go to school?” She is very bright – academically.

The cause for confusion is that our weekends have been filled with traditional summer activities. We’ve had so many BBQs that we’ll be craving a turkey dinner or any departure from potato salad by mid-June.

The kids have been in the swimming pool almost daily since the second week of May. My son even made a daring late-April attempt by jumping into the icy water. Before the father of my future grandchildren could ruin my chances for future grandchildren, he defied gravity and flew back out of the pool. Upon catching his breath, he announced the water was very cold - another academic wiz.

Those crafty confectioners at Van Otis are also anxious for summer. Check out their spring and summer line, including the artsy daisy pops and molded chocolates for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

End of the World

December 2012 marks the conclusion of a b'ak'tun - a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar which was used in Central America prior to the arrival of Europeans. Some interpretations suggest that the 2012 date marks the end of the world or a similar catastrophe.

Are you preparing for major devastation on December 21, 2012? If so, you may want to inventory the supplies in your Y2K bunker.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the jokes contrived from this concept. I especially like the irony that Dick Clark passed away during the year without need for a Rockin’ New Year's Celebration.

I know it’s not nice to make fun of people’s beliefs, but I figure this is a safe one. If I’m wrong, there won’t be anyone left to point a finger and say they told me so.

You still have time to sample all the great handmade confections at Van Otis Chocolates before December. Start with their famous Swiss Fudge and then head straight for the truffles. Don’t forget the wine and liquor-filled chocolates, the chocolate-covered popcorn, or the Van Oreos. And be sure to devote an entire day to their amazingly creamy fudge.

Actually, with all that Van Otis has to offer and only seven months left, you’d better hurry!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy Mother-in-Law's Day

I’m fortunate to have a wonderful mother, but this Mother’s Day blog is dedicated to my mother-in-law (MIL). She deserves all the love, happiness, and yummy goodness available at Van Otis Chocolates. VO Chocolate Covered Creams will be the perfect gift this year!

My MIL is fabulous and best of all, she’s funny. She’s rarely intentionally funny, but she can laugh at herself along with the rest of us. She’s entertained us so much over the years that I began to keep a journal of things she and my father-in-law have said that we want to remember.

Here are a few stories involving my MIL. Our Mother’s Day celebration is guaranteed to be filled with lots of laughter and likely, some new stories for the book.

Before heading to the prom, my MIL wanted to tell her daughter to be good and have a good time. Her parting words to daughter and date were, “Be a good time!”

In response to a text about my son’s game schedule change, my MIL replies “G7”. She calls not long afterward. Giggling, she says, “I meant to text G8 for great.” I point out that G8 would actually read “gate”.

Upon leaving the movie theater, my MIL says, “That was a good movie, except there was an awful lot of fighting in it.” She had just seen The Fighter.

My son said to me, “I wish you’d have another baby. I want a little brother.” My MIL responded, “No, you don’t. Soon you’ll be driving, and you wouldn’t want to have Joe Jr. tagging along.” My husband (whose name is not Joe) said, “Ma, who’s Joe Sr.?”

In his heavy New England accent, my dad was talking about a former, local ice cream stand called Averills. My MIL, sitting at the opposite end of the dining room table, said, “Who would name an ice cream stand A-holes?”

Happy Mother’s Day!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pomp and Circumstance

Spring is often a time of celebrations. Whether you’re planning a graduation, anniversary, or other gathering, impress your guests with the Van Otis EliteSwiss Fudge Chocolate Fountain by Sephra. If you live in the Manchester, NH area, the Elite fountain is also available for rental. Call Van Otis at (800) 826-6847 for more information.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, (Chocolate Fountain of Youth and You’d Eat (Blank) if it Were Covered in Chocolate), chocolate fountains are a great party centerpiece, appreciated by both kids and adults. Part of the fun is finding different dipping items. This is a new favorite.

Cheesecake Strawberries

Approximately 20 large strawberries
8 oz. package of softened cream cheese
2 tablespoons of sour cream
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 graham cracker pie crust

  • Wash strawberries
  • Remove stems and core strawberries with a small knife to make approximately a one-inch-deep well in the top of each berry
  • Mix cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and vanilla with an electric hand mixer or in a food processor until smooth
  • Put pie crust in a separate bowl and break into crumbs with a fork
  • Fill each strawberry with cheesecake filling using a spoon or piping bag
  • Press the exposed cheesecake filling on the top of each strawberry into graham cracker crumbs
  • Skewer or insert toothpicks into the top of each berry for dipping

It’s important to pre-insert a dipping holder into the top of the berry. You want guests to dip the berry tip NOT the cheesecake/graham cracker end. If the filling or crumbs get into your chocolate, they may clog the fountain mechanisms. Extra-long toothpicks or wooden skewers work well. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

And Speaking of White Chocolate...

Put this mix in several bowls and spread them around your next party setting. Be prepared to hear people exclaim that they can’t possibly like it because they don’t like white chocolate. Next they'll get mad at you because it's so addictive. It’s going to happen. I guarantee it. Someone might also give you an award for being the best party host on the planet. I won’t guarantee this, but it could happen.

White Chocolate Party Mix
1 1/2 cups of EACH of the following: Mix all of the first six dry ingredients in a large bowl. Melt Van Otis white chocolate in a microwave or on a stove top according to melting directions. Pour the melted chocolate over dry ingredients and stir until coated. Spread mixture onto a piece of waxed paper. Once hardened, break apart and store in a sealed container.

Party in a Bag

Easter always helps me turn the corner from winter to spring. I’m willing to exchange snowflake for springtime decorations, including my retired Van Otis candy molds. Some people have connections to get courtside seats; I have connections to get old pieces of metal shaped like bunnies and chicks. I win.

Every Easter, I try to outdo myself with new basket displays and unique content. After recently seeing a Van Otis Facebook post, I knew I had found this year’s “unique”.
Jelly Bean Bark is bite-sized chocolate pieces embedded with brightly colored jelly beans.

The bark comes in Van Otis’ exceptionally creamy white and milk chocolate.
I was surprised to discover that of the two options, Van Otis’ white chocolate Jelly Bean Bark is my favorite. (Remember, I’m a dark chocolate fan.) There’s saltiness to the white chocolate that pairs well with the super sweet jelly beans.

Another reason I’m drawn to the white chocolate bark is the overall appearance. Each half-pound bag of bark comes in a clear package, tied with a pastel-colored ribbon. The white chocolate bark looks like squares of confetti cake.

Get your own party in a bag at Van Otis’ retail shop in Manchester, New Hampshire or at Also make sure to “like” Van Otis’ Facebook page for updated product and event information.


If you live in New England, all you’ve done lately is talk about the weather. You mention it every day to at least seven people at work. Some people are even subjected to your morning AND afternoon reports.

You post, tweet, text, and tout your observations, using lots of exclamation points for emphasis. Gorgeous day! Went for a walk – beautiful outside!! Just sang harmony with the robins to The Sound of Music!!!

You chuckle with store clerks, “How ‘bout this weather?” The store clerks smile, secretly wishing for a major natural disaster so that they can talk about something else.

It’s what New Englanders do. We like our routine, and we especially like consistency in our seasons. So the prospect of wearing Easter attire without a parka is kind of a big deal.

We’ll get equally excited in a few weeks when skies turn gray, temperatures drop, and everything is soaked like a sponge from incessant rain. This will give us an entirely new topic to discuss – rainy weather.

No matter what’s happening outside, you can find a touch of spring at Van Otis’ retail store in Manchester, New Hampshire and online at You don’t need to wait until Easter to celebrate the season. Foil-covered chocolate eggs, chocolate-dipped Peeps, and chocolate-filled eggs with peanut butter, caramello, buttercream, or coconut are available now to help you wish others (and yourself) a happy spring! Oh, I mean, happy spring!!!!!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are further proof of my assertion that salty and sweet should be represented during every dining experience. I tried using this logic on my kids when defending my love of chocolate ice cream with plain potato chips, but they still think I’m weird.

I was unable to find solid evidence of the origin of the popular PB&J. It appeared in history during the 1904 World’s Fair and was later a standard during World War II.

Due to meat being scarce and expensive during WWII, PB&J was originally a necessity; however, it has held its popularity ever since. The National Peanut Board reports that the average kid eats 1,500 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before graduating from high school.

The popularity of the fruit and nut combination has spawned things such as crustless sandwiches and canned PB&J. Yes, canned.

Visit Van Otis Chocolates at their Elm Street, Manchester retail store or for some of their handmade fruit and nut confections. None of them come in a can.

Peanut Cluster - Dark or Milk Chocolate
Large, crunchy peanuts surrounded in chocolate

Peanut Butter Crisped Rice
Crisped rice in a creamy peanut butter center encased in milk chocolate

Peanut Butter Cup - Dark, Milk, and White Chocolate
Creamy, salty peanut butter center encased in chocolate

Cherry Cordial - Dark and Milk Chocolate
Maraschino cherry, floating in a liquid cherry center encased in chocolate

Orange Nougat - Dark and Milk Chocolate

Chewy orange nougat with candied orange bits encased in chocolate

Pineapple - Dark and Milk Chocolate
Candied pineapple slice encased in chocolate

Fruit Slices
Sweet and sour, sugar-coated, fruit-flavored jellied slices

Ball of almond-flavored goodness, artfully designed to look like a ripening piece of fruit

The Creams
Raspberry, Strawberry, Orange, Lemon, Cherry
Dark, Milk, and White Chocolate (Limited)
The creamiest fruity centers encased in chocolate

The Jellies
Raspberry and Orange - Dark or Milk Chocolate
Subtle berry-flavored, jellied center encased in chocolate

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mystery Solved

You know that popular saying, “Which came first, the chocolate coating or creamy center?” Well, maybe it’s not as popular as, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” But it’s a mystery that YOU can solve!

Go beyond Van Otis’ enticing display cases and step into a world where handmade confections are made. You can watch chocolates leave the enrobing line, as they’re coated with chocolate and individually marked by hand.

Learn about stringing, a method of marking the chocolates to indicate what’s inside, and drizzling, a method 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 chocolate dipped pretzels, Temptation Twinkies, Temptation Oreos,etc.

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

Join a VanOtis tour by calling 1.800.826.6847. Reservations are required, and groups ranging from 12-25 people can be accommodated.

Tours are appropriate for ages 8 and over, and the cost is just $5 per person. Enjoy an environment free of Oompa Loompas, a fun candy making activity, and of course, delicious samples!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Less Than Three

I’ve embraced texting as a mode of communication. I appreciate that it’s a really quick way to convey information without a lengthy conversation. But what I struggle with is text language – abbreviations, codes, and total disregard for grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. I’m a product of my English teachers. I fear the red pen.

Maybe I’d be more apt to embrace text abbreviations if I’d learn them. I’m certainly capable of learning. After all, I used to communicate across the classroom with my calculator turned upside down and a friendly 07734.

I do understand when I’ve made people laugh out loud or when their butts fell off while they were laughing. But for the longest time, I was concerned with all the people who thought they were less than three. I mean, I’m no ten, but I have enough self-confidence to put myself at a six on a good day.

Once I became aware that <3 is actually a disconnected heart turned sideways – of course it is - I was able to appreciate the love from these former low self-esteemed folk.

The month of February is a great time to less than three those you love with specialty items from Van Otis Chocolates. Chocolate-covered strawberries, heart-shaped boxes full of assorted chocolates, and heart truffle boxes are the perfect expression of love. Post-holiday sales offer an extended opportunity to make up for stinky carnations and cards written by someone else that didn’t truly reflect what’s in your <3.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Super Bowl

I am one of those crazy New England Patriots fans. During football season, my husband and I spend all week planning our Sunday menu. It’s the most important family meal of the week, served on paper plates and TV trays, without any eye contact whatsoever.

Sometimes we invite friends over to justify the quantity of food. These friends have gone through a secretive, but highly scrutinized, screening process. They must meet criteria such as both spouses watch AND understand football, and their kids intuitively army crawl when passing in front of the TV.

As you can imagine, when the Ravens put the Patriots into the Super Bowl - you heard me - I was ecstatic. I feel like a wedding planner this week, focused on seating arrangements, jersey and hat ensembles, and of course, the food.

Football food is complicated. You want to serve hot items but don’t want to be the rock, paper, scissors loser who has to tend a stove or grill. That’s why I am so reliant on good food that can be accessed from a seated position without much effort.

Van Otis chocolate-covered popcorns are a great game snack. Although white chocolate is usually my third choice to dark and milk, Van Otis white chocolate popcorn is by far my favorite. The combination of sweet, salt, and popped corn is the perfect flavor balance.

Grab some Van Otis popcorn for the big game this weekend, pour it into a bowl, and there you have it – a Super Bowl.