Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Ch ch ch changes

Drat and blast, folks!  Summer has passed us by and not a peep from yours truly. Truth be told, I just had a really exciting, fun, and busy summer.  I know people were worried for their lawns, but I'm the kind of gal who loves to see the sun every damn day if I can.
One of my favorite things about the summer in the Gloucester location is that in the last few years it really has become a destination of sorts for folks from all over the world. Our Salem shop has enjoyed this diversity for years, as the PEM lives up to its reputation as an international draw.  Here in Gloucester, though, it's still new to see so many cultures and people all over the island.  My favorite international tidbit so far is that what we call non pareils here are called "freckles" in Australia.  Cool!
Freckles, down under

So much for the fun, folks, now on to the busy part:  At the start of summer (on my birthday, actually) I was alerted that our Salem shop would have to move out of its home for the past 5 years.  We're really sad to leave 177 Essex St., but had no say in the matter. We'll have our last hurrah there this October, and will be moving in November.

So here comes the exciting part:  OUR NEW DIGS!  We are super excited to be moving just a couple blocks away to 318 Derby St.  We're really thrilled to be just around the corner from two of my favorite foodie stores in Salem, A&J King Artisan Bakers and the Cheese Shop of Salem. With us at the tip, I think we are going to make a gorgeous tasty triangle of a neighborhood.  A Bermuda Triangle of Tasty Delights!  The Black Hole of Deliciousness! The Golden Triangle of Temptation! I could go on...

We hope (cross your fingers, folks!) to be up and running at the start of December. In the meantime, stock up on Essex St. all the way to Halloween, which will be our last day of business in that location. Remember, too -- the Gloucester shop has all the things you need, and will be open while the Salem shop relocates.  It's beautiful drive out here.  Trust me! 

We'll keep you posted on progress, last minute news bits, and any crazy sales we might have on our Facebook Page. Visit often!

Until next time, folks, we're here.  We're making candy.  It's yours for the taking.  Xxx.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Turtle out of her shell--

Sometimes, it's really good to get your routine shaken up.  It's not always easy, but it's a good thing.  I found myself in such a situation just recently -- not only was I summoned for jury duty, but for the first time in my life, actually chosen.

The courthouse was in Lawrence, and the case was predicted to be two weeks long.  Not necessarily the most pleasant or convenient circumstances, but there you have it.  I could see no reason not to participate; because I have such a solid crew, I forged ahead with my civic duty.

For those of you who don't know me well, my work commute is generally 8-9 minutes.  I can see the ocean the whole ride.  I like it that way.
As you all know, most of the time my job includes making delicious, messy, chocolate-y treats.  My work wardrobe is well suited for mud pie making.  Just as I would have it.
My day often consists of telling stories, listening to stories, laughing a lot, listening to music,  and being productive in ways that are immediately appreciated by 99% of the folks who happen to open our door. Sometimes there is singing.  It's good life. It truly is.

I haven't spent much time in Lawrence.  It's pretty big, there's a lot of history, and a refreshingly vibrant and diverse population.  The employees of the Supreme Court were really lovely, very accommodating, very helpful.  There's a lot of excellent food in this city.  I was determined to have lunch hour be my carrot every day, scoured Yelp for recommendations, and had some excellent luck.

Our jury consisted of fourteen individuals, and it took two days for the full number to be reached. Our jury was as diverse as Lawrence itself, which was really pretty cool; I really didn't know what to expect, and this was a happy surprise.  All ages, colors, sexes, really, a great cross section.

The whole process is fascinating, but what was really interesting was this:  while we know that jurors are not allowed to talk about the case outside of the courthouse until the case is completed, I was surprised to find that the actual jurors were not permitted to talk among themselves about the case until all of the evidence and testimony has been heard.  This actually makes a great deal of sense, as new information comes to light every day, and opinions can easily change as the case reveals itself.

So here are these fourteen strangers, spending countless hours together, not talking about the only thing the group had in common. Lots of traffic talk, lunch talk, small talk.  The group dynamics were fascinating to watch; people's personalities took a couple of days to surface (or assert themselves, in some cases).  Interesting to see who always sat in the same seat in the deliberation room, who worked the room, who kept their heads down and read, those who complained, stared into space, knitted, tried to talk about the case, overshared, played games on their phones, just mesmerizing stuff.

In the courtroom, the sociological fodder was just as rich -- watching witnesses, lawyers, the defendants, the plaintiffs, so much to see and hear.  Riveting!  I soaked it all up like a sponge.

This isn't to say my transition was easy.  Waking up at an ungodly hour to fight traffic for 50 minutes or more each morning was only slightly better than trying to figure out what would be considered grown up clothes in which to attend court.  I found myself up against a wall of striped shirts. Sweaters, too.  Apparently, one can have too many striped shirts....

On the commute home, despite the fact that the judge required us to forget all about the case until the next morning, I often would mull over what I saw and heard throughout the day.  After about day four, it became very clear that we fourteen people were going to have a significant impact on some people's lives. It could get a little heavy.

After 6 days of testimony and evidence, we were sent to the deliberation room, where we were to stay until we had either come to a decision, or the day was up. Our case was a civil case, not criminal. The major difference between the two as far as I could tell, was that while a criminal case had to be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, a criminal case is decided on the preponderance of evidence -- the weight of the testimony and evidence heard.  This distinction can make reaching a verdict really difficult, a 12-2 verdict almost impossible, in our case.

On the first day of deliberation, most of us had no idea what the other did for work.  I was outed as the Turtle lady on the first day of court (there were three of us from Gloucester), so was an open book.  I had theories about what different people did professionally.  A couple of times I was spot on, but mostly I had no idea.  It was intriguing to me that only during the course of deliberations, almost everyone identified what they did, as it informed their opinions of the case.  

What a talented, varied, brilliant group.  Really.  Just fabulous.  Well spoken, thoughtful.  For almost 12 hours over two days, the debate was thorough, civilized, just really smart.  In the end, most of us were content with the verdict reached. Some were just pleased to have avoided a hung jury.  All of us were looking forward to returning to our lives.

Me?  Feeling really fortunate to have had the chance to do my civic duty,  and grateful the Turtle team could roll on without me at the helm.
Mostly, though, I'm delighted to be back making mud pies, my less-than-ten-minute commute, laughing lots, and telling stories.

Plus the singing.  Mustn't forget that.

Happy Summer, folks!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Hippity Hoppity and Shake that Shillelagh, Turtle Babies!

The light is changing.  The sun feels kinda warm sometimes in the afternoon.  There's an unspecified optimism emanating from our customers, despite the chill.

Spring.  So close!

It's crazy how much these little things mean by the time March rolls around.  This year, Easter is early, so March has a little more oomph to it here at the ole chocolate factory.  But Easter isn't just it: St. Patrick's Day, too, is right around the corner -- this means only one thing to our fans:


 No really, folks --

They ARE all that.  And more.  So much more.  Super silky, deep and dark, the stout is right in front, nothing subtle about these babies.

Just how we like it.  We make them for the month, and then we make then a little longer, if folks ask.

They ask.

We've been making these for about a decade or so.  One of my first forays into breaking out of the tried and true truffle combos.  It took just a couple of batches before they were perfect.  I'm really proud of these -- and tooting my own horn is a rare thing.  These guys are close to my heart, and that's saying something (my Scottish grandmother is positively rolling in her grave reading this).

Back to Easter!

I love this holiday because the most imaginative, fun, and whimsical molds are made in it's honor. We've got some great ones this year, and the astronaut bunny is among my favorites.  That's not to leave out the boater bunnies, peep baskets, edible eggs and baskets, the Dapper Bunny, the Jelly Belly bunny, and the ever popular Bunny Boxes.  Our last little bunny is hands down the crowd pleaser of the season:

               And that's just some of the things we offer.  So many options.

Happy Spring, Happy St. Patrick's Day, Happy Easter, and everything in between!

Me?  I'm celebrating the light.  The crocuses emerging from the ground.  The fact that I get to be surrounded by this sweetness every day.  I'll take unspecified optimism, any day, from any source.       Winter?  Can't say I'm sorry to see you leave.  Onward ho!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Happy New Year. Better late than never!

Woah, it's been a little while since I was tapping away at the keyboard, giving y'all the latest blow by blow of life as a uke totin' chocolatier...

It was a crazy successful, crazy good December for us in the Alley. After a restorative week off, we're back to it. It's quiet in January, but we have so much to do in terms of preparing for Valentine's Day, it's sort of nice.

I'm not a sap, really, but there's something about Valentine's Day that cheers me. This time of year on the East Coast is dreary, dark, and gray.  A lot of the time.  I find myself welcoming the bright colors and textures of each year's Valentine's designs greedily, enraptured by the sheer over-the topness of it all.

That's just a taste, folks!  There are so many more!

Okay, maybe I am a bit of a sap.  You can't be in this business for 24 years without that happening, apparently.

To add to the February fun, our sister shop in Salem is part of the Salem's So Sweet Festival, participating in the Chocolate and Wine tasting event on the evening of the 5th.  Amy and Brandy will be representing there with some of our tastiest bits. Such a fun night!

Valentine's Day is very different from other holiday seasons; the crush is intense for about 4 days. The 10 days prior are busier than normal, sure, but the sheer volume of folks we have coming through the door is really something to be seen.  It's always a bit of a gamble, too -- the things that really sell (truffles, cherries), we have to just make as much as we can and hope stocks hold up until the 15th. Thankfully, we have a really wonderful, loyal fan base; more often than not, if we're out of something, we can point them to something else they'd like.  Of course, the goal is to not run out, but...

In the past we've had some  great write ups right around Valentine's Day, which always helps.  This year, we'll be in a sweet little spot on the news on channel 7 (NBC) throughout the day on the 5th, so that's exciting.  In the spot I show you how to temper chocolate so you can make Valentines at home, just like in my book, Turtle, Truffle, Bark!  Go ahead.  Try your hand at it.  Even a failure can be pretty delicious, and you know we are always here to make your favorites.

Always -- except that first week of January, that is.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Ho ho ho!

Oh December, you wacky month of comfort and joy, sore muscles and tasty beverages, and gorgeous starry skies!

I love this month.  I always have.  My father hated the commercialism of Christmas, but my mother loved the whole thing.  When my brother and I were kids, she hardly ever wrapped a present before we fell asleep Christmas Eve, so it really was a wonder on Christmas morning.

Of course I see it a bit differently now that I'm in a business that is so crazy during December, but not too differently.  I love that people come in to buy secret Santa gifts.  I love that folks come in to buy candy filled dreidels, advent calendars, all that stuff.  I'm not a religious person, but I do love the bustle of it all.

After 16 years in business, one of the very coolest rewards is that we have become a tradition in some families.  The idea that Turtle Alley is a known, expected treat during the holidays makes me happier than I can express, actually.  It's hard to believe this all started with one machine and just me.

It's a whole different ball game now, lots of  apron-clad turtles gracing both stores, and lots of candy flying out the door. Chocolate on every surface, customers coming in and going out all day, so many turtles.  Soooo many turtles.

December is a month where attaining a work/life balance can be difficult, but every year it does get a bit better. One of the many added benefits to my job is that in December, it's also a lot of my social life -- I see everyone!  I'm also pretty lucky that my husband is Turtle Alley's shipping manager, otherwise I might not see him at all.....

candy cane pretzels!!
So this month's post is going to be a bit short.  I've got more of these to make:

FYI:  if you're in Cape Ann and watching cable on December 17th, tune in to John Ronan's TV show, "Writers Block".  You'll get to see little ole me chat about my book, candy, all sorts of things!

Until next time:  avoid the news at all costs, tell the people you love that you love them, smile at strangers, and by all means, do NOT make any chocolate related resolutions for the New Year!!

xxx.  Happy Holidays.

Monday, October 19, 2015

October, Witch City, & the Neverending Story of the Caramel Apple Forest

and so it begins...
It's not quite a month since my last dispatch, but man oh man, has it been a busy not-quite-a-month. First, let's just get this out there:  we have a sister shop in Salem Ma.  It's October.  I'm delirious.


This month has been really fun, exciting, and intense.  I've been able to do my favorite thing, making candy, but also have had the opportunity to do some other things, mostly around my book .  On the 10th, I did a chocolate making demo and book signing at Williams Sonoma  in R.I. (my home state).  It's a beautiful shop, and I had a really lovely crowd there.  Probably the best part about the whole thing was I got to troubleshoot a truffle recipe an attendee was having difficulty with.  When I was able to explain what the problem was, I swear, I actually saw a light bulb go off over her head.  It felt really good to connect in that way over one of my favorite subjects.  Also, we sold some books, which was excellent.

A couple of days later, I did an interview on local TV (here in Gloucester).  The show "Writer's Block" has been hosted by John Ronan for 26 years.  John's an old friend of my husband's, and a lovely fella.  We had a great time talking about the book and such.  It was a bit surreal to be introduced as an author -- I'm still getting used to that.  The actual show will air December 17th; I hope it looks as fun as it actually was.

In October, with the Salem shop in full swing, the shop here in Gloucester really starts to feel like a factory:  constant production, long hours, many hands making the work flow smoothly.  For me, it's about heading into work in the dark, and leaving work in the dark, too -- and that's fine.  Making hay is hard work.

I'm pretty proud of the caramel recipe I've been tweaking over the years.  It is exactly the caramel I always want to eat.  Probably about 8 years ago, our longest running manager in the Salem shop, Jennie the Boots, basically nagged me into adding caramel apples to our repertoire.  It was a truly brilliant idea. It is crazy how many of those babies we sell.  Right now, I feel like pretty much all I'm doing is cooking caramel and dipping apples into it.

Dark out.  
Also dark out.
This is actually really cool.  Early in the morning (when I can hear myself think), I sometimes take a second to think of just how many people have enjoyed our apples, turtles; all of the stuff we make here with our own hands.  Somehow it makes it not seem so dark out.

I'm going to sign off now, there's a batch of caramel on the stove that will not be ignored.  Before I do, I'm going to take a second and think about all the people at Turtle Alley that make the work so much fun, and make my days so much easier.  Graham, LeRoy, Amy, Kathleen, Hannah, Brandy, Bree, Julian, Fiona, Natalia, and Zoe:  thank you.   I couldn't do it without you, and wouldn't want to!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

In which the chocolate road leads to delicious POLLOCK!

On September 20th, I had the distinct pleasure to be one of 5 judges for a Seafood Throwdown at the Boston Local Food Festival.  It was an all woman event:  all women chefs, and the panel of judges, all women authors.  Total honor, and a hoot to boot!

Despite the fact that I make my nut on sweets, I'm no slouch in the kitchen, and am known for a pretty precise palate. This was a great way to meet some other food authors, and stretch my taste buds a bit.  Added bonus?  They wanted us to actually talk about our books, which I am always down with.

I'd only met one of the other judges in person, Heather Atwood.  She did a really lovely review of my book.  We found we had friends in common, and actually got on so well I came precariously close to burning a giant batch of buttercrunch (talk about getting on like a house on fire!).  Other than Heather, I knew no one on the panel (literally, a fish out of water. *sorry*).  What a fantastic group: Ali Berlow, Leigh Belanger, Diana Rodgers.  Fascinating conversations, cool jobs, good earrings, great books.  What else could one ask for?

Well hellooooo, Pollock!

There were two teams competing in this Throwdown, and the fish was pollock.  The goal of these throwdowns is to feature under utilized fish, and show folks what can be done with them.  Both of the teams did a fantastic job, but the Fishmongers came out on top (one of the categories to judge is use of the whole fish -- they cooked the skin to crispy perfection!).  It was a really close contest, and both teams were super talented.

As the teams shopped for ingredients and then got down to cooking, each of us in turn was asked to chat a bit about our books.  It was a really fun and informal atmosphere, so I only tanked a little.  The other ladies were on their games, though. Watch and learn, Hallie.  Watch and learn.

All in all, the day couldn't have been better:  the weather, the company, the chefs, the fish.  What an amazing food festival this is.  A total treat to step out of my chocolate covered clogs and into more fish-friendly flip flops.

SO:  not a chocolate blog at all today, just a chocolatier's lucky day out blog.

Not to worry:  I do not intend to marry chocolate and fish anytime soon.  Unless maybe we get into making mole.......

Up next:

Who knows!  It will be about sweets, though, I promise.

PS:  We're losing the light, but try to get out to see these sunsets.  They are fabulous!

No filter.  From my "front porch".