Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Abba Zaba Do.

Chewy taffy-peanut butter center. According to Winkipedia, they're 'Found almost exclusively in California.' Not any more. Someone asked for them, turns out my supplier carries them. Before you can say, 'next Tuesday delivery', they're on the shelf. To be honest, I'd never heard of this one. My candy distributor order person called it one of those 'nostalgia items'. I'm all about the nostalgia items. One of my favorite reactions in the shop is when someone says, 'I used to love these as a kid!' Those are the kind of candy items I seek out to stock.

I remember the first new candy I brought in after I took over what was once 'Sunrise Sweeties', formally 'Sweet Expectations' in Northampton for all you local candy trivia buffs. It was satellite wafers. Remember these?

Another recent add was Chick-o-sticks. Crunchy peanut butter wrapped in toasted coconut. I must admit, the name is much less tempting then the description.

Then there's the holiday special candy. How about some Gummy Skeletons?

Or my nephew Wil's favorite, the gummy horror bag....scary...

These bad boys go fast. Don't worry, Will, I saved one for you.

So it's 93 degrees and humid today, and the shop is bustling. Can't complain about that for late September in New England! I could ramble on about candy for pages, but must go back to help scoop. If this didn't wet your sweet tooth enough, try this.

If you have any candy suggestions, nostalgic, scary, or otherwise, no need to wait for the suggestion jar here in the shop. Just drop me a line... jim@mttoms.com

Stay cool.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fudge Ripple.

One of the classics. This batch is fresh out of the batch freezer today. I don't make it that often. My diehard Fudge Ripple customers would argue I don't make it nearly enough. It sells and quick. It's simply vanilla with a fudge swirl. Customers complain how hard it is to find. I guess sometimes simple is what people want. We've become surrounded by complicated things - 8 gig I-phones and PDA's, TIVO's to record eighteen shows at once, hybrid cars that run on either gas or electicity depending on their mood and the weather.

Perhaps people just crave something simple once in a while. And so I give you, fudge ripple. No smoosh-ins or broken up peanut butter cups. No salted, roasted nuts. No sugar gem squares. Just vanilla and a ripple of rich, dark chocolate. Mmmm.

Life is short.
Eat ice cream.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Farewell Summer, You've been great.

Sure doesn't feel like it here today, but today is officially the first day of Autumn. Happy Fall to you and yours.

The Green Pond

As I patiently wait for the Fall foliage to color the local landscape, there are still a few picture-worthy spots in town to capture. Shot this a few mornings ago in that little red gazebo park next to the big pond. A flock of Canadian geese don't seem to mind the film of green algae that blankets this mini-pond.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My portfolio

There's a scene in one of my favorite movies, Doc Hollywood (ok, call me a dork and get it over with), where the old doctor is sitting in his small and simple office, dispensing wisdom on the new hotshot doc, played by Michael J. Fox, a young guy fresh out of med school and destined for the big bucks of plastic surgery in California. He wants no part of the small town, small paycheck life his unlikely mentor is selling.

The old doctor then opens up a set of cabinet doors to reveal an overflowing collection of more than 700 photographs tacked inside. As the young Doc looks at the images of old doc delivering babies, saving lives, repairing broken arms, and bandaging up cat scratches, the old doc describes how his life has been made full by playing a part in the lives of nearly every person in this small southern town. He glances at the giant collage of his life and says, 'This is pretty much my portfolio, Doc. I live in an old house, and drive an old car. And I wouldn't trade any of them for gold.' Granted, serving up ice cream and gummy bears may not be saving lives, but I like to think it does make people smile from time to time. And you just can't put a price on that...

Monday, September 17, 2007

The World According to Ben.

I came across a Peter Pauper Press copy of Poor Richard's Almanack in the gift shop in Old Deerfield a few weeks ago. Being always on the lookout for the next metaphor or pearl of wisdom, I knew I wasn't leaving the store without my own copy.

If you haven't seen it or been forced to read it in some high school English class, it's basically a collection of 'observations' on life, as recorded by a guy you may have heard of, Benjamin Franklin. There's a disclaimer on the first page that clearly states that 'Ben Franklin did not orginate all the sayings in Poor Richard's'. Ben himself calls the collection 'Wisdom of many ages and Nations.' It' s quite a collection.

Some are a bit dated, 'A penny saved is two pence clear. A pin a-day is a groat a year. Save and have.' Others show Ben to be a bit of a pessimist. 'Love your neighbor; yet don't pull down your hedge.' Many read like fortune cookies- 'The cat in gloves catches no mice'. But there are some good nuggets in there. Let me give you a few sample spoons. Perhaps I'll drop in a few more when the mood strikes me or I can't think of anything else. Let me start it off with a few that jumped out at me on my first pass...

"Fish and Visitors stink after 3 days."

"There are no ugly loves, nor handsome prisons."

"Necessity never made a good bargain."

"The discontented man finds no easy chair."

"Wealth and content are not always bedfellows."

"Think of three things - whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you must account."


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fall is in the air.

It's barely 60 degrees today here in western MA. The sky is a deep blue, that darkness of blue rarely seen during the hot summer months. People are wearing sweatshirts. And on my little morning bike ride today, I noticed another first sign of Fall, a few early leaves starting to show off their colors. Won't be long now. That's ok, I'm ready for a slower pace. And let's face it. There's no place more beautiful this time of year than New England during foliage season. Bring it on!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

You're only as good as your crew.

With all due respect to the new Fall crew, I miss The Lauren and Katie. They say you don't appreciate what you have until it's gone, but every day of the summer when they were working I knew I had it good when one of them was in the trenches. They're smart, hard working, consciencious, personable, and just had a sense of all that had to be kept track of here on an hour-by-hour basis. We never ran out of hot fudge in the warmer or syrup in the shake pumps. The candy was always stocked, and the cups never ran out when we were deep in the weeds. I was even able to leave them alone to run the shop while I snuck away to do things that normal people do when they're not working.

So they've gone back to school now, and while the new crew is still scooping up the learning curve, I'm left wondering how much tougher this summer would have been without my 'A-team'. They've set the bar extremely high for scoopers to follow. Maybe that's why my expectations are so high for my new crew members. What's the moral of this entry? I guess it's something to the effect of this - when you find a great employee, empower them, appreciate them, and enjoy the freedom they afford you. And also realize that not everyone is an ace, so while high expectations make better performers, it can also lead to frustrations. Sometimes expectations need to be adjusted to fit the strengths and weaknesses of the person. This shouldn't let that person off the hook, but may call for extra coaching and require you to lead them in the direction of their strengths. Adjusting expectations, I find, can save you suffering daily frustrations from dashed ones.

This rant may not have made any sense at all, but it was a little theraputic for me.

As always, thanks for listening.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sacks, Lies, and Videotapes.

I'm sure I'm not the first to make up that headline about this unfortunate sports scandal involving one of our favorite local teams, but I did think this logo was pretty funny. They're still a great, well coached team, and since this is really just a blog about ice cream, small town life, and all things happy, I won't try to defend or denounce. Let's face it, there are more important things to get riled up about.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Nashawannuck Monster?

Actually, it was a guy swimming laps in the pond a few weeks ago. He was so relaxed, he might as well have been in his backyard pool, not in a snapping turtle rich, mucky bottom, and not polluted but not potable either, body of water. I'm not sure if he was from out of town, drunk, or just a little crazy. I've been here four years now and I've only seen someone in past their waders maybe once, and that guy was definitely very intoxicated. Even my neigbor's dog seemed curious...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

How I start my day.

There's always a ton of stuff to do before I open up shop every day - sweep, put out the chairs and tables, take the covers off the ice cream, turn on all the warmers, clean the bathroom (yes, being CEO of your own little corporation isn't all glitze and glamour), and a host of other 'chores'. Most of them I do without even thinking about them, like scratching an itch. There is one check on the setup checklist, though, that does require me to actually flip on my brain. It's when I search for a 'quote of the day' for the little whiteboard behind the cash register. I don't know how many people actually read it or appreciate it, once in a while someone will thank me for doing it. It's just become one of those little morning exercises that pushes me past all those doomy headlines into more positive territory. Like a good run, a jazzercise class, or a bowl of grapenut ice cream, it's just a better way to start the day than reading about how frightening Britney Spears was on the VMA's the night before. It can be a little tricky to find a quote short enough to fit on the board, but that just means more time wading around in affirmations and positive thoughts from famous, infamous, and influential people. Hard to complain about that.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Silver Swimmers rock.

Talk about your crazy customers. During last night's ArtWalk Easthampton, the Silver Swimmers wandered into the shop for an impromptu performance. Part mimers, part Blue Moon group (on mute and in silver not blue), but mostly just cool street performers, the SS swam around the shop for about fifteen minutes, entertaining a full house of ice cream eatin', intrigued, and some just perplexed patrons.

Taryn and Abby, the Saturday night crew, were a bit intimidated at first by the silver four, but seemed to relax once they realized slow-motion mute mimes are actually quite harmless.

The Swimmers were part of this month's ArtWalk Easthampton festivities. They spent the Walk swimming and performing odd and interesting dances on the sidewalks and in ArtWalk shops. I must admit, they were pretty cool.
A bit of silver paint cleanup this morning was a small price to pay for a taste of big city street performance art in the New City. If you ever get a chance to check them out, I highly recommend it. Just be careful if you let them climb on you. There's a pretty good chance you will end up with your own silver coating...

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Limo ride - Kids' Style

I suppose if you were 3 and could have anything you wanted, I might guess a ride on a cool wagon with all your buddies and a stop for your favorite ice cream (at Mt. Tom's) would be pretty high on the list...

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Catnip Ice Cream anyone?

A customer recently suggested a new flavor. Are you ready for this one.... Catnip Ice Cream. She was completely serious. Now I know cats like catnip. From what I've seen, it's like speed for felines. The only stumbling block is none of my customers are actually cats. I suppose I have a few stray cat customers here and there, but they get their ice cream from the big overflowing dumpster in the back parking lot. Be that as it may, in the interest of science and the betterment of Mt. Tom's, I employed my cat, Chubs, to confirm my theory on Catnip Ice Cream. First, I scooped up a little vanilla and fed it to her. She was totally into it.

Then I sprinkled a little catnip on it. I may as well have sprinkled it with dog breath. She wanted no part of it...
Now I know Chubs has never been a big fan of the nip, but she's also the same cat that once ate a wasabi pea out of my hand. She doesn't have opposable thumbs, so she can't actually write a cool review like my chocolate ice cream friend a few days ago (below), but I think the gist of it would be 'just give me a vanilla straight up -big bowl, no spoon, with a side of cat food, thanks.'

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Misty cubicle colored memories

I was rummaging through some boxes the other day and came across this little artifact from my previous working life. It's the ten year service anniversary gift I got during my old corporate dayz. I remember rifling through the catalog of 10 year gifts I was eligible for from what once was one corporate goliath, AT&T. It's actually a pretty nice clock, still works. Definitely better than most of the other gifts in that catalog. A mongrammed garden hose. A timex with AT&T shining brightly on the face. A sporty AT&T insulated vest with built-in pocket protector. I guess I shouldn't complain. In these days of jobsharing and cost cutting and do more with less business mantras, I'm guessing most, when they hit a decade, don't get more than a slice of cake from their office mates. Come to think of it, does anyone work for a single employer for that long anymore?

In any event, this clock was just one of those occassional little reminders of my days 'workin' for the man'. Pushing 6 years now and still no regrets for leaving the 7:30 to 5. There may have been a few moments during the past weekend, for example, when I was beaten senseless from endless hours of scooping double duty (with the green crew, not in an energy efficient way, but a don't know where the buttons on the cash register are yet way) and ice cream making all hours into the night, but at the end of the day (I hate that saying, it just came out, couldn't be stopped), it's so much more satisfying to have created something that brings people pleasure, including me. It's a fun environment to hang out in every day. No one tells me what to do. And I get to be creative whenever I feel like it. As I always say, owning your own gig is a ton of work and time, but it's immensly satisfying and interesting and challenging and exhausting and fun and rewarding, so if you have dreams of hanging up your own shingle, I say go for it. As long as it's not homemade ice cream in Easthampton.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Chocolate Ice Cream

I recently wrote about my suggestion jar and sometimes needing thick skin to process different people's tastes. Well, once in a while I get the suggestion 'your chocolate needs to be chocolatey-er'. I was taught by Dad to be a purest when it comes to making chocolate ice cream. This means no chocolate ice cream base. It means doing what few ice cream makers still do, cooking up chocolate base from scratch in a big caudron.
Dutch cocoa, sugar, salt, water, heat, and a big spatula.
It's a ton of extra work and mess (it does give the shop a nice chocolate aroma while it's cooking though), but what results is a smooth and complex chocolate flavor base for ice cream. It's not overly strong or sweet, so if you're used to just plain chocolate ice cream, perhaps you might not fully appreciate my version.
One of my local buddies/regulars is really into my chocolate ice cream. In fact, it's all he ever gets. I recently tried a different approach to making chocolate ice cream in hopes of getting a darker version. It did come out perhaps chocolatey-er, but I still needed some customer feedback before I even considered a switch. In the interest of science and the betterment of Mt. Tom's homemade, my buddy was willing to test drive the new chocolate. After a cone's worth of careful consideration, here's his review:
"Your new double chocolate is good. It's definitely the full-bodied, expected, creamy chocolate experience, and is arguably "more chocolatey" than your original "olde tyme" recipe. But honestly, I would miss your original version if you were to discontinue it (but I would understand if market pressures force your hand). When I first tasted your "classic" style chocolate ice cream I thought there was something wrong with it. There was something inscrutable and "wine-y" about it, like a complex Sumatran coffee versus an espresso roast. But that flavor has grown on me (obviously... how often do I order anything else?), and now I find myself thinking about it when I'm away from it, like a far-away love. It's bewitching. "

I've gotten some other opinions, and all have led me to not abandoning the 'purist approach', even though the thought of not having to setup, cook, reheat, clean out, burn myself on hot chocolate magma had started to get pretty tempting. I think I will make the chocolate fudge brownie with the new darker chocolate, so if you're curious, check that one out. And as always, do let me know what you think. Thanks a lot.

Happy Labor Day to you and yours.

What better way to commemorate Labor Day and usher in the shiny new school year than with a cute kiddo in a rooster costume. My buddy Mark's daughter Mallory. I hope you're having a great weekend. Some stellar weather here in New England for sure.