Today’s a big day for us as we start a new employee name Pa Say, who is from Burma via a Thai refugee camp. He understands a few words of English, but (from what I can tell) is not yet speaking. I interviewed him yesterday at the International Institute with the help of a translator. He has experience in a cement factory, which at least fulfills one of our work requirements—the ability to carry heavy bags of supplies up and down stairs. I left him a map (which I’m not sure he could read) and a W-9 to fill out as homework.
It’s always a big deal when a new employee starts. For me it’s a refreshing reminder of the importance and practicality of our mission. For him—well, it’s his first job in America, which is a bigger deal than most of us can imagine. I have no doubt he’ll show up, map or not. He’ll probably be a couple hours early. And for the rest of our staff, particularly our manager, who needs to train and guide him without any shared language or expectations in common, it’s a challenge. One that, as a refugee herself, she is amazingly good at.
Today we also go into production with our October granola.
We enjoyed the suggestions some of you sent in for a tasty creepy granola. I especially loved the idea of mixing dark chocolate with (bloody) strawberries. Rather than “Dark Night,” I thought we could have called it “Dark Matter” or, better yet, “Dark Energy” as a little shout-out to this month’s nobel prizewinners in physics (did you know that “galaxies and clusters measure…about 27% of [the total amount of matter]… leaving 73% or so in the form of some invisible stuff that is not matter: “dark energy.”? Apparently this is the right amount to explain the acceleration of the universe. Read more at http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2011/10/04/dark-energy-faq/) However, while I seemed to have time to read Discover Magazine on line, I didn’t have the time to source dried strawberries. They’re expensive and I always need a certain amount of time with a new ingredient to make sure we’re getting value, quality, and a decent shelf life and that I know how it handles in granola. We’re saving the idea for Valentine’s Day. Just imagine what a little dark energy might do for your love life.
We churned around the other Halloween related suggestions—pumpkin spices, pumpkin seeds, apples, caramel, cinnamon. I continue to get a lot of requests for savory granolas, but the idea’s on hold for the moment until we can work out some of the texture challenges. It can be done. We’re going to do it. But it’s going to take some time.
The result is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Fall/Halloween idea—which is usually a recipe for disaster (pun intended) except when your prototype ends up tasting really good. We’re calling this one Caramel Apple Corn. One of the little jokes my kids love about Halloween is that candy corn is actually really corn—which I know is a sign that they’re developing a taste for irony and deconstruction—which warms my heart even if I tend to have little hissy fits about corn syrup (a violation of nature and that sort of thing). But this was what got me thinking about adding in popcorn: real, actual, unprocessed, organic corn. You can thank Geoff that we’re not marketing it with “Got Corns?” Creepy—yes; tasty—I guess not.
To help keep down the calories, I bought a hot-air popcorn popper at Walmart and pulled out some 80’s music to keep me company while I popped it. We caramelized some Sucanat and turned it into a sauce using a little coconut cream (rather than butter, so it’s still non-dairy), and then thinly coated the dried apples and popcorn with it in hopes of keeping the apples from drying out (as unsulfured apples are prone to do) and to keep the popcorn from getting soggy. The caramel gives the corn a delicate, incredibly pleasant crunch that’s both complex and comforting. Like Cracker Jack or Fiddle Faddle or Poppycock without the high-fructose-corn-syrup goo. My hope is that kids will love it almost as much as grownups. (Maybe you parents can trade for some of their made-entirely-out-of-real-corn trick-or-treat candy and save them a few calories and chemicals.) I expected pumpkin seeds would be overkill, but they’re actually really wonderful combined with the walnuts and highlighted by cinnamon—so in they stayed. We didn’t add any all-spice or mace. Fleur-de-sel?—that will have to be our little secret. Halloween is never a time to play it safe.
We’ll be in production tonight. Our web site should be updated now. Orders should be ready to go out by the end of the week.
One last thing. October promises to be something of a watershed month for PGP as I (Keith) enter my 4th month of being unemployed and we continue mapping out the shape, mission, and future of our business. One simple and free way that you can help us during this time would be to promote our social media efforts. I’ve already confessed how Twitter, Facebook, and even blogs threaten to fill me with some strange sort of dark matter. Nevertheless, I have become convinced that a business like ours cannot survive without a dynamic presence in the internet universe, so we’ve jumped in. I’ve already tweeted 101 times. The good thing is that we do love connecting with our customers—that part feels real and meaningful. And we are finding ourselves reasonably “good” at tweeting—meaning our followers seem to be entertained and appreciative. And we’ll get better.
We are aware of living under a steady shower of goodwill from many of you who enjoy our product and/or believe in our mission. A very practical way to keep helping us would be to keep spreading the word about Providence Granola: re-send or re-post our blog entries, link to our page, tweet, “like,” “follow,” “poke” or do anything else that might help get us in touch with the kinds of customers who really want to be involved in what we’re doing. Building up a following and some momentum now could help prepare us for a strong holiday season. Our Twitter handle is @provgranola; our Facebook link is http://www.facebook.com/TheProvidenceGranolaProject, and you have already found our blog.
Caramel Apple Corn Ingredients: oats (org), honey (pesticide-free from Aquidneckhoney), canola oil (org), granulated cane juice, coconut (org), barley (org), sesame seeds (org), almonds, cranberries (cranberries, sugar, safflower oil), raisins, apples (unsulfured/unsweetened), oat bran (org), wheat germ, pecans, pepitas, flax (org), walnuts, popping corn (org), oat fiber, coconut cream (org), vanilla extract, cinnamon, sea salt, nutmeg.