Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chocolate Coated Work

There are a lot of lessons in the visit to Old Kentucky Chocolates - both personal and professional. Let's run your work through the enrober:

1.) Do what you love or find some aspect of your current job that you love. Or quit complaining and find another job. Of course, you can do none of this and stay where you are, hate every minute of it, and lead a miserable life. But I want more for you.

Those of us who do what we love are lucky. But some of you have not found what you love yet or are afraid to take the risk to do what you love. That's okay - you are where you are. How can you find some aspect of what you do to love? First, you have to want to. Seriously - you are going to have to really want to do this. If you do, here are some thoughts:

Maybe you really enjoy people. You may have to deal with some real duds in the course of a day, but I bet you deal with some good people too. Focus on them. Let the others go. Maybe people get on your nerves, but you love the work itself. Great! Remind yourself that you get to do something you really enjoy.

I was only in Old Kentucky Chocolates for a little while, but the people there seemed pretty happy. Now, of course, they all might have been drunk, but I don't think so. This is what I think - some really enjoyed interacting with the customers and having fun (it IS a candy company after all, but I bet all of you could have more fun with your customers than you do. I have fun with the women who work in my post office!). I think some of the others really enjoyed making the candy - they liked the process. Others I think enjoyed the people they worked with and the sense of family. Find something you love, find another job, or be miserable. You get to choose.

2.) The grass ain't necessarily bluer (well, Kentucky is blue grass country) somewhere else. After we've been working a job for a while, we stay to take things for granted. We think every place else must be better than where we are. Not always! I have a friend who worked for a family owned paper and never appreciated how well she was treated till she went to work for a large corporate operation. It was a whole different cut throat world. Before she was treated like she was a true asset, now she's just a cog in a machine.

This applies to your personal life too. We think - if I was with someone different or if I lived in a bigger house, a different neighborhood, etc. etc. etc. etc. my life would be so much better. Things and people can look great from a distance. But when you really examine them, you may realize your current situation is pretty darn fabulous.

And remember that old saying - no matter where you go, there you are. That unhappy you in New York will probably still be that unhappy you in Florida. Although you'll be warmer. And there will be more oranges.

BUT don't use that as an excuse for staying in a bad situation. There is a difference between never being happy and knowing what does and doesn't work for you and making strategic choices.

3.) Be proud of what you do! Sometimes seeing your work through someone else's eyes makes a big difference. Cindy Glick said it at Just Born, Victoria said something similar to me at Old Kentucky - seeing me so excited and interested renewed her enthusiasm for her work. I don't care what you do - there is someone out there who would like to have your job or thinks some part of it is interesting. There is someone who really appreciates what you do - you may think all you do is process the bills at the electric company, but I sure am glad that my power is on right now. And if you didn't do your job, it might not be! Each of us depends on many more people than we realize.

4.) You have a greater impact than you know. Everyone you interact with every day is either enriched by your interaction, unaffected by it, or lessened. Of course, the same is true of you. Simply by being kind and courteous you can make someone's day. And I believe you get back what you give out. Give your kindness, your help, your ideas, even your tough questions - all in the spirit of enriching others and it will come back to you tenfold. I know this is really hard when you are busy, especially in challenging jobs like customer service. But I absolutely guarantee that if you can give out fun, kindness, and enthusiasm it will make your job easier and it will be contagious - both for your customers and co-workers.

The holidays season is upon us - try to spread a little cheer. Wear a Santa hat to work or when you're out shopping. Keep a pocket full of candy canes and give them to all the cashiers or service people who help you. Or to all your customers. How many people will smile just because they see you? How much joy will you spread? And you know who will wind up being the most joyful of all? Yep - you. Ho, ho, ho!!!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bourbon, Horses and Chocolate

Sorry for the holiday hiatus! I was visiting my great friend Heidi Rafferty in Kentucky. She not only prepared an amazing holiday spread - she also planned a really special trip for me. The first event was a tour of a chocolate factory - is the woman fabulous, or what?

The factory was that of Old Kentucky Chocolates When we walked in the door, we walked right into their retail shop. Yoohoo! That, of course, is exactly what I said, which caused a male shopper to say, "You are way too happy to buy chocolate." I said - "You are NEVER too happy to buy chocolate!" I am spreading my delirium nationwide.

This was a great retail shop - with tons of chocolate and candy and hundreds of chocolate molds and chocolate molded items for sale. I saw chocolate guns, chocolate dentures, a chocolate drill, chocolate handcuffs (in a chocolate police set, those of you with minds in the gutter - it's not THAT kind of candy factory!), giant chocolate Santas, and chocolate horses!

It's Kentucky - the land of horses, remember? These guys are life size. They are not solid chocolate, but are chocolate coated. They are not messing around at Old Kentucky Chocolates!

Victoria gave us our tour - which was great - just me and Heidi! How cool is that? It was like our own private factory!! Now the specialty of the house is Bourbon (100 proof Jim Beam) and they make Bourbon Pecan Cake, Bourbon Fruit Cake, Bourbon Truffles, Bourbon Cherries, and Bourbon Chocolates. And these don't just kind of taste like bourbon. This is Kentucky, dammit! You KNOW you've had some Jim Beam when you take a bite of these!

Victoria was terrific - she showed us the giant slabs of Guittard Chocolate they start with and melt down for their chocolate. (Most smaller chocolate companies buy their chocolate elsewhere - it's too expensive to manufacture. Wolfgang chocolates in PA did the same thing, but they didn't disclose their supplier.) She showed us where they make the molded chocolates - all done by hand - and we met the lovely lady who makes them. She showed us a gorgeous solid thoroughbred horse and let us feel how incredibly heavy it was.

We got to meet the owner, Don Hurt, who was so nice to take some time to talk with us.

Everything is handmade here - there is no Mama Hen pumping out millions of Peeps. They were making some almond caramel treats in one room and the Bourbon Cherries in another. The cherries are soaked in the Jim Beam for a YEAR!!! Then they are put in a smaller version of the mixer like the Hot Tamales go in at Just Born and are coated with some confectioner's sugar and other ingredients. They they go through the enrober to be coated with chocolate. When I said "There's the enrober!" Victoria couldn't believe I knew what it was. I got some candy cred right away.

After the enrober, the chocolate covered cherries get cooled, then wrapped up. Victoria does some of the wrapping. She also let us have a cherry right off the line! (Am I living the life or what?) Now I must preface this by telling you that I'm not a drinker. I popped one in my mouth - and yeeoww! It was like taking a shot of bourbon! Forget subtle! Then the cherry and chocolate kicks in - and I have to say - it's pretty darn impressive.

Here are some shots of their assorted box of chocolates:

Looks pretty good, eh? I've tried several of the ones with nuts - and they were great. Not nut chips, great big, high quality cashews, peanuts, almonds. Now we're not talking fancy-schmancy ginger, bacon, wasabi, lavender, squid ink stuff here. These are basic good old American chocolates. And if you like Bourbon, order some of their stuff immediately!!

I've now been to several chocolate factories and the people at Old Kentucky were fantastic! Victoria gave a fun tour and introduced us to everyone - it was like meeting the family. When I was shopping after the tour, the wonderful women behind the candy counter kept getting me to try samples. Like THAT was hard. (The maple cream was to die for!) I haven't been anywhere where everyone was this nice. Old Kentucky had great people, 100 Proof Bourbon and chocolate handcuffs! What else could you want?

Thanks to Heidi for a great Thanksgiving and thanks to the wonderful team at Old Kentucky for helping make my visit special. If you ever get to Kentucky, stop in - it's worth it!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lindt Truffles Deal!

I'm currently visiting my great friend Heidi in Kentucky - and we are going to visit a chocolate factory tomorrow! So just a quick post again tonight.

Lindt has a great deal going right now! Yes, this is Lindt of the most awesome melt in your mouth truffles. Spend $50 and get 50 free truffles!! That's $25 worth of free truffles! If you like Lindt, get some now!! You can always get some gifts and keep the free truffles for yourself!

Ho, ho, ho!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Motivation by Pay Back

Just a quick post - this video is great:

And it made me think several things:

1.) I hope I'm in this kind of shape at 73! Damn! Keep exercising. If you don't, start. This WILL be the most important thing you can do for your health. Want to lower your health care costs? EXERCISE! Have more energy? Exercise! Look at the video if you don't believe me!

2.) You can either whine about what happens to you, you can let it go, or you can get some payback! I never thought payback was a great idea for motivation, but now I'm revising my thinking. I now think that anything that motivates you to grow, to become more, and to have a better life can't be bad.

3.) You can keep growing as long as you're still breathing. At 73 this man is going back to college and playing basketball! If we were all so brave and so determined! What an inspiration!

4.) What's going to drive you this year? And into the future? It may not be a sense of pay back, but what will it be? I'll be honest with you. I find all this dire talk about the economy has me living a more fear based life than I like. After watching this video, I thought - who am I to be afraid? This man took the floor at a college basketball game at the age of 73! Screw the economy! Life is good! I need to figure out what exciting things I'm going to achieve next year instead of worrying about hanging on to what I have.

He's not playing to protect his old body, he's playing to win the game. And the sense of joy and life is contagious.

5.) Ask for what you want and keep asking. Who would have thought he would find a college that would let him play? Ask, ask and ask again!!! You'll NEVER get what you want if you don't ask.

6.) Any coach that can't take a little whipped cream in his shoes is a humorless jerk.

In fact, you could say our hero was motivated by whipped cream!!!!!!!!!!! : )

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Chocolate Show NYC 2008 - Here We Go!

I got up on the morning of November 8th (the second day of the Chocolate Show) well before dawn. I had a speaking engagement on Friday, so this was as soon as I could get to NY. I got in to Laguardia at 9:00 a.m., took a cab to my hotel, dumped my bag and hit the pavement - walking less than a mile down to Pier 94. Woohoo - I was excited and couldn't get there fast enough.

I don't know why I was surprised to see a REALLY long line snaking around the building - the OUTSIDE of the building. Note - if you decide to go, don't be cheap like me. I didn't want to pay a $6.95 service charge on a $28 ticket. If you had approached me in that line and told me you could get me to the front, I would have given you a $20. Buy your ticket in advance, pay Ticketmaster's service charge.

But, hey, who can be grumpy when waiting in line for a chocolate show? We were all bonding and speculating about what might be inside. Some people from the Chocolat Mathez booth came out and had mercy on us (this was brilliant marketing). They came out with a giant tray of delicious french Truffles and a postcard for their booth and their website. Now the website only offers a CASE of these truffles for $99, so they are obviously not targeting you and me! But they were damn good truffles and we were all pretty fired up about getting some chocolate as we waited.

The line moved slowly and the only other thing that happened of excitement was a monkey appeared. Not a real monkey, the mascot for Peanut Butter & Co. (I LOVE their stuff, by the way.) I also like monkeys.

I finally got inside, paid my $28 dollars (cash or check only! Take lots of cash if you go - a lot of the vendors aren't set up to take credit cards.) and hit the floor! Now I was planning to spend two days at the show. But you don't really need two days - one is plenty. But get there early. I LOVED the first part of the day - you could actually talk to people. As it got more crowded, it was just mobs of people trying to get everything they could for free. Ugh.

There were 56 booths, a chocolate fashion exhibit (some of the costumes from the fashion show held the night before), and some kid area (whatever - I have no kids and people who bring strollers to events like these should be slapped). I don't know what was happening in the kid area and I hope I never find out.

There were also two theaters where some awesome demos were held.

I'm not even going to pretend to go in order or to review every booth, but I'm going to give you a lot of intel because I think it's fascinating! The word on the street is that chocolate is the hot new gourmet food group! That tastings and appreciation of chocolate are becoming more and more popular. We are sooo on the cutting edge!

Green & Black's Organic had a booth - and they were giving samples - just little chunks - which was fine. I love their Almond Bar - it is jam-packed with almonds. I need to try more of their stuff - and get this - they gave out a coupon for up to $4.99 on any of their products. SWEET! They weren't selling - just giving out samples of all their bars (or almost all) and handing out coupons. Great idea!! No muss, no fuss and drives consumers to find their chocolate so they can buy it again and again. Brilliant!! Oh - they also have ice cream - can you imagine? I bet it is delicious!!

Lily O'Brien's - a chocolate cafe - was giving a bite-sized, individually wrapped (which was nice - everything else was unwrapped and you had to eat it immediately, usually just a tiny chunk of a bar).

This sample was very good - a very smooth toffee (nothing like Enstrom's crunchy toffee which I greatly prefer). Lily O'Brien's was really trying to get people to go to their Bryant Park Cafe - they offered a buy a beverage, get a beverage free card AND a spend $50 get a gift of chocolate worth $15 free flyer. If I lived in NY, I would definitely go check them out.

What I like about both of these approaches from a marketing perspective is that they know exactly what they want people who visit their booth to do. Redeem those coupons and complete the activities that would require. Well done! Good value immediately given to attendees with the potential for more value, and they can track results.

What I found at the show were some very friendly chocolatiers, some who seemed to be very arrogant, some who seemed furious that people weren't buying more, and many booths manned not by chocolatiers, but by sales reps. (Which I think may be the best way to go.) I have to say, that while it was really awesome to see the chocolatiers, most of them are horrible sales people. They don't interact well and are terrible at selling (and I was trying to buy!). Not all of them, but several. Maybe they are too close to the product. And there were hordes of wild-eyed people looking for freebies. It takes a seasoned sales rep to handle all that and not get crabby! But I also think it's the E-Myth (title of a book by Michael Gerber about being an entrepreneur) - just because you are fabulous at making chocolate, doesn't mean you're great at all aspects of running a business. And there's no shame in that!!!

It's what I've said before - do what you're good at, do what you love! Some people love chocolate more than people and that's okay!! That's why they're so awesome at making chocolate!! We're going to talk about the impact of others on us more in the next entry...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Amazing Toffee and Outstanding Marketing

I am going to digress from the Chocolate Show (again!) because I have to share this amazing toffee with you. Now there's a lot of toffee out there at Christmastime - you know what I'm talking about - those generic peppermint topped squares you see in Target and Williams Sonoma? It never lists any candy company - they seem to spring from some mystery source. Well, my experience has been that most of them, well, suck. Sorry - the ingredients just aren't very good. They even fall below the simple Health bar.

Now I really like toffee - hey, it's basically butter and sugar - what's not to love?

I had a roommate in college who always had a stockpile of Heath bars which I seemed unable to keep myself from devouring whenever she was gone. I would replace them, but I was like a junkie with those things! It was terrible!

But except for trying that disappointing genero junk around Christmas, I haven't had much toffee in years. I was off the stuff. Until Wendy Ricci e-mailed me (my comments are in italics):

Hi Denise,

I work with the online community team for Enstrom Candies and spent time checking out Motivation by Chocolate to make sure it was appropriate for me to start a conversation with you. (uh-oh - appropriate - is this blog appropriate? Do I want to be appropriate? That sounds boring. But I sure don't want to be deemed inappropriate...)

I am trying to spread the word about Enstrom's (ridiculously delicious) chocolate almond toffee. My thought was you might enjoy a free 1-pound sample, and your loyal readers might appreciate learning about an authentic (48-year old) toffee-making family business. (oh Hell yes! A one pound sample! Yahoo!!!!)

How this Relates to Your Blog: We would love if there was anything you could share with your readers about the Enstrom's story – so if there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. Perhaps you could run a contest on your blog, and offer the sample as the prize? (Sorry readers, I love you, but I'm doing all the work here! And I had to screen and make sure the toffee was appropriate for you.)

If so, I'd be happy to arrange the shipping of the product to one of your readers or to whomever you like. (of course, I had Wendy ship that sample right on out to me!)

Chet Enstrom and his wife Vernie perfected the art of toffee-making three generations ago. The secret toffee recipe has been passed down to each generation, and the company has expanded into making fine chocolates created from all natural ingredients. Operated out of Grand Junction, Colorado -- where it all began – Enstrom Candies has become so popular over the years that it is shipped around the world. (Let me tell you, this is one amazing toffee recipe. Just like the Mama Hen, the Enstroms will have to guard it with their lives!)

More Reasons Your Readers Might Care Enstrom's toffee and chocolates are great year-round, but also make wonderful gifts for the Holiday season. has numerous gift boxes, baskets, and tins to choose from (the peppermint cookie bark is to die for!), and also provides information for corporate gift giving. Also, all of Enstrom's products are certified Kosher Dairy.

On a personal note, I hope you do not find this email offensive. I maintain my own personal blog and know how annoying spammy messaging can be.

P.S. I noticed you are from Raleigh, NC. I have family out there and just got back from a trip to OBX (Nags Head). I love it out there!

Best regards,

Wendy Ricci
On behalf of Enstrom Candies

Okay, how cool is Wendy? This is brilliant marketing. She contacts me in a VERY non-pushy and non-offensive way, offers me free candy, AND makes a personal connection (North Carolina). Enstrom's needs to hang onto her with both hands. And maybe a pay raise. Or at least all the toffee she can eat. For the rest of her life.

Offering a sample is great - who's going to turn that down? And the sample delivers!! The box describes the contents as "the perfect blend of sweet cream butter, pure cane sugar and California almonds, drenched in creamy milk chocolate and sprinkled with crushed almonds." And that's what it is - crunchy, yet deliciously rich. Thick and filled with almonds. It's really like SLABS of toffee - I kid you not, this stuff is really, really good. And it's all natural! The ingredients list reads: almonds, butter, sugar, milk chocolate, salt. See the first item? Almonds!! That is way down the list in most other toffees. DO NOT waste your money on any other toffee - this is (as Wendy said) ridiculously delicious.

At least check out the website - they have some delicious looking caramels and chocolates too: Yummy!!!!

I will confess to you that the night the box arrived, I ate over half the toffee. I am not proud of this. That's half a pound of sugar and butter and almonds and chocolate! And I had to stop myself from eating the other half.

Now before you think that I'm just a candy sucker who falls for anything with enough sugar to put me in a diabetic coma, let me tell you about Dean & Deluca's Dark Chocolate Cacao Nib Toffee. This toffee comes in little shiny, dark chocolate covered balls. I opened the bag, popped three into my mouth and had to spit them out. BLEECH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They tasted like dirt. Now I know cacao nibs are bitter as heck, but I thought the toffee might even this out. All I say is GLAAACK!!! It might be trendy, it might be hip, but give me Entrom's or give me death!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Peeps Will Set You Free

Welcome to the final episode of the fabulous JustBorn tour! As we ended the last entry, our tour guide, Cindy Glick, Director of Corporate Affairs was looking at us with a gleam in her eye as she leads us off to see how they put the eyes on the Peeps.

We climb up some stairs to a little room (kind of like a control tower). As we walk up I notice the stair railings are coated with a dusting of the orange sugar coating being used on the Peeps that day. I really am in candy land!! We enter the next room where two Ooompa Loompas are watching a conveyor belt loaded with Peep coast through a machine. There are a lot of Peeps going through - not as many as the Mama Hen makes - maybe about half that amount. And I hear these "pa" "pa" sounds - like a air gun. A soft popping sound. I, of course, am still on my sugar high and am excitedly interrogating the Ooompa Loompas. "Is that air?" "It looks like of like it's dripping, but it's not, is it?" Whoa, those on the edge are off the mark!" I start going "pa" "pa" - I am fascinated! I thought people might have to do the eyes, but oh no! People do more handwork on the seasonal pieces. Like the Gingerbread Man Peeps.

But this is really cool. I could hang out and watch this stuff for hours. Let me show you what the Peeps on the edge looked like:

See how their little eyeballs don't quite line up? See what a precise operation this is? A little off kilter and it all goes to hell! I hope you have a new appreciation for the artistry of the Peep eyeball.

Now what does all this have to do with you? How can touring a candy factory help anyone? Well, let me tell you.

You have to have a passion in your life. If passion is too crazy for you, call it a hobby. Something you find fun, something exciting. And if you are really into it, this could be knitting! (Different yarn, patterns, whatever!) The economic news makes it look like we may be in for a tough ride for the next several months. What's going to keep you smiling? What captures your attention? Amuses you? Don't just write this off as silly or not worthy of your time. It's okay to have fun and enjoyment. In fact, what's life without it?

Your passion will bring you great opportunities. Tell everybody about it! Your enthusiasm for it will be contagious and people will want to help you or take part. Karen Friedman set up the JustBorn tour when she found out how crazy I was about candy. Leann from Lake Champlain sent those awesome chocolates. Jenny Prevatte (a friend of mine) sent me two enormous slabs of homemade fudge. None of this would have happened if I kept my love of candy a secret. People want to be part of your excitement.

After our tour, my friend Karen sent a thank you e-mail to Cindy and she responded, "The truth is that your and Denise’s spirited enthusiasm was contagious. Seeing Just Born through Denise’s delighted eyes reminded me again why I do love it here. The two of you gave me a gift as well. Thanks."

How great is that? Let people see your excitement - we all want to be around people who are passionate. There are too damn few of them! Your excitement may rekindle theirs! I think of lot of the JustBornites enjoyed our visit. How great it must be to see how much joy your work brings to others.

Your passion or your hobby will unite you with your tribe. I have met so many fascinating people through this crazy candy adventure! Those I've mentioned above, some of my fellow bloggers - check out Candy Gurus and the National Confectioners Association - I have links to them on here. The Internet has made it possible to connect with people all over the world who are excited about the same things you are. And we'll be talking about the Chocolate Show - more of my tribe! Your tribe is waiting for you too. Do you want to have fun with them or sit around worrying about things you can't control?

Your passion can keep you from getting boring. Are you learning new stuff, having new adventures, meeting new people? If not - get on it! You either grow, learn and change or get boring as hell.

Your passion can set you free! If you are obsessing over a person, the stock market, or anything else you can't control, your passion gives you something else to focus on. Something that you enjoy. It gives you your power back. I wasn't worrying about anything when I was touring JustBorn - I was totally in the moment. Your passion brings you back to you - who you really are.

Just ask these guys:

Peep, Peep!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Mama Hen

To see a Peep born is a very interesting thing. I have no idea how the engineers figured out how to get a machine to do it, but it is fascinating to watch. Cindy calls this machine the Mama Hen and she births a lot of Peeps. She's loaded with this marshmallow glop that reminds me of the white stuff in the mushroom in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Remember when Augustus scoops a handful of the stuff out of the mushroom and shoves it in his mouth? Well there was a vat of pink marshmallow stuff and I really wanted to pull an Augustus...but some lines do not need to be crossed. And hey, we all saw what happened to Augustus! I wasn't ready to be ejected from the factory.
The Mama Hen makes the base of the Peep, sweeps in and does the body, and finishes with the head - the end forming the tip of the beak. Let's refer to the Peep statue that resides in the factory lobby:

This is the ideal Peep - notice how there's a base, then the body, then the perfect little head and beak. The Mama Hen machine pumps out a long row of these babies all at once - in sets of five. I swear I could watch that machine all day. What a feat of engineering! The Eiffel Tower - bah. That has nothing on the Mama Hen.

The day I was there they were making one of the two new colors for this Easter. Yes, you get all the scoop here!! The new colors are........

orange and green! Yay!!!! Existing Peep colors are classic yellow (of course), lavender, blue and white. There are also some red ones you can order on the site, but I'm not sure they still make those.

Peeps have their own website and there is a fan club you can sign up for. There is also a Peepmobile, but I didn't get to drive it. Or ride in it. Or actually even see it.

Okay, so the Peeps come out of the Mama, they ride down the line and they get some colored sugar sprinkled on them, but its also on the conveyor when they are born, so it's on their base too. These little guys are white marshmallow on the inside and whatever color they are making on the outside. They are completely covered. Check them out - zero white shows on these babies. The art form is high. The only small "flaw" (if you even call it that) is that five Peeps are joined together. These are not individual Peeps like our ideal Peep in the lobby. But hey, why be picky? We're taking a feat of engineering here!

So vats of marshmallow are loaded in, cute Peeps come out, they are coated with colored sugar - it was at this point that Cindy snagged a defective Peep (although to my eyes it looked perfect) off the line. Actually there is a little chute the defective ones are routed to. (Don't worry - if possible they will be recycled. Just Born practices as much recycling as they can and they are going as green as they can (not just with the Peeps).

Oh - Peeps are also low in fat and each one has only 28 calories!

Hey - back to Cindy snagging a Peep. She grabs one right off the line (doesn't even have it's eyeballs yet) and hands it to me. It's still warm! It's even melty! Imagine a toasted marshmallow but with no crispy edges. It's like having a hot Krispy Kreme donut. I am ruined for life and only want hot Peeps. Damn it was good!!

But I want to know how they put the eyes on the Peeps. I've wondered about this all my life. I want to see the eyes!! I think I was chanting, "Eyeballs, eyeballs!" and maybe stomping my feet. Cindy smiles and promises she will show me that before we leave.

We also see a line where they are making sugar free hearts. Hey - if you haven't tried the sugar free ones they are really good too and have even fewer calories! Cindy grabbed me a warm one of these. I was jumping up and down with glee at this point and cheering on the Ooompa Loompas. Massive amounts of sugar and shiny colorful candies do that to me.

They were also making orange eggs:

Now this picture doesn't do them justice because not only are they orange, they have some multicolored shiny sprinkles in with the sugar coating. They are really pretty. I ate one of these off the line too. I was starting to feel a little ill at this point, but it was still awesome!

These are interesting because they have to hand pack all these seasonal shapes. Peeps get packed automatically, but these have to be packed by hand. Three ladies were doing it while we we there and they were moving fast. But if one messed up, you could see how an egg pile up could happen. Like that Lucy episode. I tried to distract one of them.

One of the three started talking with us about how much she loved to eat Peeps. She was skinny as a rail and you could tell she loved the product and her work. We was way too tall to be an Ooompa Loompa. Plus the Oompa Loompa never really seemed very happy in Willy Wonka. Actually they were kind of creepy.

The distraction didn't work - no egg pile up - these ladies are pros. Cindy told us if anything - even a completely packaged and sealed item - hit the floor it had to be thrown away. They run a tight ship at JustBorn.

Tomorrow - the eyes! The eyes!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Just Born in Bethlehem

It's seasonal that we're at Just Born in Bethlehem, (PA), eh? Hey, we all have the important sites for our faiths, mine just happens to be a candy factory. Don't be judgin'.

Okay, now that you've got your lab coat, ear plugs, and hair caps on, we are going in.

The first thing you notice is the smell - the day I was there, it was cinnamon, but with cherry too. Sweet, but not too much - delicious! The first area we visit is giant - these huge trays are getting loaded with this clear gloop. There is one Ooompa Loompa operating this giant machine - the trays get filled with gloop (aka gelatin) and once they are all filled they go into some giant ovens. It's all automated and the Ooompa Loompa is very friendly and shows us the high-speed controls and monitors. I am impressed and fascinated, especially when Cindy grabs a piece of gelatin and lets us try it. The naked gelatin is the base for the Hot Tamales, Jolly Joes, Mike and Ikes, etc. It's small (no layers of flavor and color yet) and has a light sweet flavor - fairly neutral.

This operation makes a LOT of these gelatin pieces. I don't know exactly how many are made each day but the Just Born website says that if you lined up each piece of Mike and Ike candies produced in one year end-to-end, they would reach around the earth THREE TIMES! (And that doesn't include the Hot Tamales!)

There are bins and carts full of these candies as they move through the factory during the processing. It's a beautiful thing!!

The naked gelatin pieces get placed into these cool metal barrels - they are giant balls with a smaller round opening and they spin the gelatin pieces around and around. Ooompa Loompas (sorry Just Bornites - I didn't get to know anyone's name! You were all too busy working!) tend these barrels adding confectioners sugar, color and other ingredients as needed. As the gelatin pieces circle, they pick up the colors and flavors. The smell of cherry was even more powerful up here and it was mouth-watering! Cindy told us if there weren't powerful exhaust fans working, the air would be so thick with powdered sugar it would be unbreathable. Hey, there could be worse ways to go!

Cindy even showed us the lab and told us about flavor brokers. Now here is how little I know about the candy business. I've always pictured people at all these companies sitting around a table trying flavors they or their employees had developed. Oh no - there are flavor brokers who travel company to company to sell them new flavors!! Can you imagine? The flavor broker shows up - and makes his pitch - "Hey, we've got hot new flavors - kiwi strawberry, passion fruit and (glaack) lavender." There's no pow-wow of Willie Wonka and the Ooompa Loompas - there's a salesman!! Who knew?

There are a lot of variations on Mike & Ikes:

Original Fruits (the ones we grew up with)

Berry Blast

Jolly Joes (all grape)

Lemonade Blends

Tropical Typhoon

Tangy Twister

There are also Zours and two types of Hot Tamales. Oh - and Jelly Beans - spice and berry flavors and the new Teeny Beenies. So far all I've tried have been awesome. Except the Zours - too sour for me.

The process of packaging all these candies is cool too - it's all automated with some Oompa Loompa monitoring. And I can't really describe the process - but the labels for the bags start as rolls of plastic. They go into the machine which makes a tube out of them, seals one end, pours in just the right amount of candy and seals the bag. It happens fast and the bags pour off the line. Same for those that are packed in boxes. It is fascinating to watch.

You know what's next, right? PEEPS!!!!!!!

And there are two new colors for 2009!!!!

But before we go there....Just Born also bought Goldberg's Peanut Chews. But these aren't made in Bethlehem. Which is probably smart with all those people with peanut allergies. I'm sad for those people. I love the peanut - peanut butter, Reese's Pieces, Butterfinger, peanut butter cookies, peanut butter pie. Oh, sorry. I was having a peanut butter moment.

Let me show you how much candy they gave me at Just Born:

I am the luckiest girl in the world!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

No Peeps Today, Peeps Tomorrow!

Friday, November 14, 2008


Visiting JustBorn is really like going into Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory. After seeing all those cool things in the lobby, I couldn't wait to get inside! And since they don't give tours, I was so lucky that Cindy Glick, Director of Corporate Affairs took several hours out of her busy day to show me around. My friendship with Karen was definitely the golden ticket!

All the meeting rooms are named after a JustBorn product - Tamale Hall, Peep Room, etc. etc, And as we rode up in the elevator to Cindy's office, Karen pointed out that the Lucite hand rails in the elevator were filled with Mike and Ikes. What a beautiful thing! I was pretty much jumping up and down with glee at this point.

Cindy (who is the friendliest and most patient person in the world, by the way) answered all my crazy questions and showed us things we missed. I swear she got as excited as I did! She was terrific. First we had to get hair covers, earphones, and white coats to wear on the factory floor. This is me afterward, my pockets filled with JustBorn candy and on a wild sugar high:

Before the tour began, Cindy filled us in on the history of the company. It's family owned (which I think is very cool) and has been around since 1923.

In 1910 Sam Born emigrated into the US from Russia. He was a candy maker by trade and used innovative technology to produce chocolate sprinkles - AKA Jimmies. The worker who made them was named Jimmie. In 1916 Sam invented a machine to insert sticks into lollipops.

Before starting his manufacturing company, Sam Born ran a small retail shop and had fresh candy in the window with a sign that said "just born". That's where the company name came from. That's great! I always thought the name came from the Peeps - they being "just born" chickens. Um - no.

As most candy companies have done, this one thrived by acquisition. In 1935 JustBorn acquired Maillard Corporation, then in 1953 the Rodda Candy Company. This company was known for jelly beans but made a small line of marshmallow products. One was a three-dimensional Easter chick that was made by HAND-squeezing marshmallow through pastry tubes. Let me say that is so hard to imagine when you see the way these babies fly off the line today! 4.2 million are made EACH DAY!

In 1953, it took 27 HOURS to make one Peep. Today, thanks to advances in technology it takes six minutes. (Don't tell the UAW.)

In 2003 Just Born acquired the Goldenberg Candy Company, makers of Peanut Chews. Yum.

Cindy is great - showing us some of the old advertising pieces, actual tubes they used to squeeze the marshmallow out of - it was really fascinating. Seriously - it really was. The company also has some terrific employee programs (health and wellness, recognition and reward) and does a lot in the community. I'd say JustBorn looks like a fantastic company. Get your lab coats on, we're going in!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Livin' the Dream

Hi Gang! I am back from The Chocolate Show and the Peep Factory!! The Chocolate Show was amazing - I will totally fill you in, and I also went to M & M's World, Hershey's huge Times Square Store, Lindt's 5th Avenue store, and the amazing Just Born Factory. I have to give you a little teaser:

This is my good friend Karen and me. See our names on the electronic sign? It was in the lobby to greet us! Karen is doing some consulting for Just Born and got me in. The factory isn't open for tours, so this was pretty damn cool! I could only take pics in the lobby - but look how great this is:

This is a column with some of their candies inset:

Here's a Peep topiary:

I'll tell you all about the factory tour, but for now, just know that I got to live a dream - I saw them make the Peeps (so cool) and ate a warm Peep right off the line! Holy cow - it was awesome!! It was just as cool as Willie Wonka!! But the Just Born employees were a lot friendlier than those Oompa Loompas.

Stay tuned!!!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Off to the Chocolate Show!!!

Hi Gang! Sorry I haven't been writing - it's been a very busy week!! I did make my first purchase of Christmas Chocolates, although I haven't tried them yet. I got Reese's Trees, a Reese's King Size Tree, Hershey's Hot Cocoa Kisses and Candy Cane Kisses, and Whoppers that look like snowballs!!! Oh - and a Snicker's Nutcracker. Hey, I felt that after an MRI, I needed some fun!

It's important to reward yourself when you go through something that's challenging or painful or bothers you. Maybe after you finish a big project at work or survive the holiday get together with the in-laws. As long as it's not something that makes you feel worse in the long run (um - things like drinking till you pass out), rewards are a good thing. Most of us are way too hard on ourselves. We are driven by achievement but forget to celebrate achievement!

There are days when all of you do something amazing; deal with a sick child and a demanding boss or land a big account or keep your cool with a frustrating customer or co-worker. Reward yourself! The reward just might be taking a hot bath or going to bed early or buying some chocolate! If you wait around for someone else to reward you or make you feel better, you might be waiting a long time. Treat yourself the way you would like others to treat you - you deserve it!!

I'm off in the morning to the Chocolate Show in NY, then the Just Born factory tour in PA, so I won't be writing for a few days. But I should have some great stories when I get back! In the meantime, here's my challenge to you - reward yourself this weekend. We made it through the elections, we're moving into the holidays (a stressful time), and it's the end of another year. Think of all you've accomplished and give yourself some kind of treat - you deserve it!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Time for the Tough to Get Going

Okay, I don't know about you, but all this economic gloom and doom is getting on my nerves!! Maybe everything will magically change after the election, but just in case it doesn't, here are some tips for dealing with tough times:

1. Realize if you did it before, you can do it again. Remember when you first got out of high school or college and had no job? You had to start with nothing and managed to survive? Well, you are much smarter now - and if you could do it before you can do it again. Likewise entrepreneur, if you built a business from nothing, you can do it again. We can come back from anything. We cannot be defeated unless we defeat ourselves.

2. Most people I talk to are actually better off than they were last year - their companies are doing better. Sure some industries got smacked and some people living beyond their means also got smacked. But it is definitely NOT the Great Depression. Keep things in perspective. It's hard with all the messages of fear - but remember - the only thing to fear is fear itself. If we are afraid we don't invest, we scale back, we don't make the sales call, we lose our fire. Refuse fear.

3. Time to get back to basics. When times are good we get slack, we get sloppy. Now is the time to do all the things you used to do - make cold calls, show up on time, dress nicely, take better care of customers, etc. You know exactly what I'm talking about. We tend to get slack in the good times.

4. Quit whining!! I never heard so much crying and whining over the price of gas! Ever been to South Africa? Seen the shanty towns? The people who live there will NEVER be wealthy enough to own a car. We buy huge gas guzzlers then whine when we have to pay more to drive them out to eat! Maybe we have too much and we take it all for granted. Next time you find yourself complaining about the price of something, think about what it would be like if you couldn't get it at any price. Be grateful.

5. Use this opportunity to realize what's really important to you. Maybe having the latest fashion item isn't that big a deal anymore. Maybe security is more important to you than you realized and you need to re-examine how you're living. Maybe you want to start teaching your children about saving instead of spending. Maybe constantly trying to earn more doesn't matter when you see how fragile it all is. Or maybe it matters more. Step back - don't let the media freak you out. You get to decide who you are.

6. Man up. Wherever you are today is where you are. Accept it and figure out where you want to be tomorrow. And realize one person will get you there - you. Not President McCain or Obama. Not Palin or Biden or Wall Street or Main Street. You. You are the President of your own country.

(In my country we are eyeing the Christmas candy.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Fall - Time to Change YOUR Leaves?

Fall is one of my favorite times of year—the temp starts dropping, the air gets crisp, the trees put on a glorious display of color—I love it! I also think it’s a great time to drop what’s not working for you. If trees can let go of every leaf, why can’t we let go of what no longer serves us? Here are some possibilities: excess weight, too much clutter, bad relationships, bad habits, bad debt. Just how long are you planning on carrying those dead leaves around? And you know that you can’t grow any new leaves with those dead leaves blocking all the sunshine.

I know what I’m asking you to do is hard. I’m asking you to change what could be lifelong patterns of behavior. I know it is not easy. But here’s the deal—continue on your current path and your situation will only get worse. The latest statistics on obesity are shocking—in less than 8 years, 75% of Americans will be overweight and 41% will be obese! We are turning into a nation of fat people. Why? Because of our habits—we eat too much, we exercise too little. Think you’re heavy now? Guess what, unless you change those leaves, you’re going to be a whole lot heavier in eight years.

I put together a seminar called “Kicking Your Own Buts” on how to change this type of behavior. I studied different methods of change and researched changing the most difficult behaviors—addictions– to see if there were lessons for the rest of us. There were:

1.) Know thyself. Truer words were never spoken. You know what is going to work for you and what isn’t. If you’ve been a night owl for 40 years and hate exercise, getting up at dawn and running is not going to work for you. Craft a plan you can live with. Forever.

2.) Oh yeah, baby—we’re talking forever. The deal is not the change itself—most alcoholics are great at quitting. It’s the staying sober part that’s hard. Dieters can lose weight—they’re good at that—it’s keeping it off that’s hard. If you can’t do it forever, it’s no good.

3.) You have got to want to change for you. I watched many, many episodes of A & E’s series Intervention and only those who really want to get better have a chance. Most bail out as soon as their family is out of sight. Change is hard as hell—if you don’t really want to do it for yourself, don’t bother trying.

4.) Try Kaizen. Kaizen says take tiny steps. I did this with my backlog of e-mail. I have serious perfectionist issues—if I can’t do it all and do it right, I’ll put it off. (See #1) My inbox was getting to be a nightmare. E-mail needed to be deleted or filed or dealt with. Then I tried Kaizen—I would just aim to have 10 less in the inbox at the end of each day. Then I went to 25 less, etc. I got through the backlog and now have a cap (no more than 50) that can be allowed in my inbox at the end of the day. You can do this with anything—walk in place for 5 minutes while watching your favorite TV show. Build up gradually. Leave one bite of food on your plate. Kaizen is all about taking small steps to change. You’ve been practicing your bad habits for a lifetime—stop expecting to change them overnight!

5.) Get smart. Dean Ornish observed that even when told if they did not change they would DIE, heart patients did not change their eating and exercise habits. He discovered that doctors were just telling patients to exercise and lose weight, not telling them how to do it. You have to learn about whatever change you are trying to make. Many of us eat without really paying attention. Do you even know how many calories you need JUST TO MAINTAIN your current weight? Find out ASAP if not—go to and look under health tools for their calorie calculator. Don’t lie about how active you are. The number you get (maybe around 2,000) is all you should eat if you don’t want to gain any weight. I’m not talking about losing—I’m talking about staying where you are today. Guess how many calories are in one slice of P.F. Chang’s Great Wall of Chocolate cake? One piece = 2,000 calories. More like the Great Wall of Fat cake! Look at serving sizes. You may think a bowl of your favorite cereal has only 70 calories. But that’s for 1/3 cup and you’ve been pouring a bowl of two cups (420 calories). Knowledge is power. Ignorance is not bliss. In this case, ignorance is obesity. Apply the knowledge plan to any change you want to make. What you know now is clearly not enough.

6.) Ask for help. We Americans are tough and we believe we have to go it alone. AA and other programs work for people because they give them a support group. Ornish found in his work with patients that if they had others to offer them support, their efforts at change were much more successful. This could be a mentor, a therapist, a family member, a friend or a teacher. There are also thousands of groups on the Internet—just search and see. Having other people trying to make the same change as you are support and encouraging you can be a huge help. I know how helpful it is after hearing from everyone about my arthritis. The key here is fit—it has to be a person or a group you are comfortable with and you trust and respect. Change is hard, but it’s much easier if you have some support along the way.

A tree is not its leaves any more than you are your habits. Have the courage to let go of what’s not working. Nothing says fall like the smell of burning leaves.

And since you've read all that - here's the chocolate!! Chocolate leaves!

I love the package - beautiful gold foil - very elegant. The leaves look nice - I stacked three of them very artfully here (if I say so myself) to match the logo on the box. And I was looking forward to the PRALINE leaves. They taste like creamy milk chocolate, but I can't taste any praline. Maybe a nut was waved over these - once. Quickly.

They are made by Walkers Chocolates in the UK. They make several chocolates with the leaf motif. They are billed as a "good value". If these were milk chocolate, I would agree. The price was right - $3.99 for about 20 leaves. But they are a bad value if you were expecting PRALINE leaves.

I feel like a squirrel on a bad day - lots of leaves, no nuts. Well, maybe one. ; )