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Working in a Chocolate Wonderland

For the past 25 years, Sharon Loren and Anne Georgulas have marked off several days during the busy holiday season to make chocolate treats for their friends.

Sharon Loren dips a dried apricot into chocolate.

They started small, with Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Balls that Loren had made as a child with her mother. But there was one problem: Georgulas doesn’t like coconut. So, for her sake, the repertoire began to grow.

What a tasty gift!

Soon, dipped pretzels and dried apricots joined the lineup. Chocolate-covered raisins and peanut butter cups were added to the mix. Then came truffles flavored with liqueurs such as Chambord for raspberry, Cointreau for orange, Kahlúa for coffee lovers and Bailey’s Irish Cream. Now, there are dipped mini-Oreos and rocky road with marshmallows in the mix as well as nut clusters made with cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans and peanuts.

The pair make so many chocolates that Loren’s Bergheim home over Thanksgiving weekend appeared to be a candy factory with an enormous dining room table covered with sheet after sheet of candies arranged by type before being packed in gift tins.

The women started after the remains of the Thanksgiving dinner were cleared away. On Friday, they worked from about 8 a.m. until late in the night. And on Saturday, they did whatever they needed to finish up by late afternoon so the packing could begin. That lasted until late in the evening. Sunday is indeed a day of rest.

By the time the last candy has dried, each had anywhere from 50 to 60 pounds of chocolate to give to family, friends and co-workers, all packaged in bright holiday tins.

Anne Georgulas dips chocolates.

Such an undertaking wasn’t accomplished alone. The greater families of both women, which have grown from infancy to near adulthood over the years, pitched in to help here and there. The children have always done their part, taking care of the candies that were a little less attractive than the others. You know, some children are like that. They become magicians when it comes to chocolate, making as many disappear as they possibly can.

Yet the vast majority was made by Loren at her tempering machine filled with dark chocolate and Georgulas at hers handling the milk chocolate. “We just keep dipping until we’re done,” Loren says.

Milk chocolate in the tempering machine.

If all this seems like hard work — not to mention messy — when compared with making Christmas cookies, then look at it this way: Neither woman finds making cookies all that easy. As with any such endeavor, practice makes the procedure easier, and it has simplified over time. For example, the women used to use a double boiler to melt the chocolate before they bought the tempering machines. Tempering the chocolate gives the candies a shine and even color. Untempered chocolate, by contrast will be dull and could appear splotchy. Yes, the candies would taste the same, but the tempered chocolate is certainly more appealing to the eye. The machines are also easier to work with, as Loren dipped dozens of dried apricots and Georgulas made pecan clusters while talking and catching up.

Samantha Hodo and Anne Georgulas roll truffles. They use cornstarch on their hands to keep the soft chocolate from sticking.

Georgulas, a pediatrician, lives in Coppell, a Dallas suburb, so the two use this weekend each year to reconnect. They swap locations every time, and last year, when the candy-making show was up north, Georgulas used the get-together for the dual purpose of candy-making and her wedding. A year later, she’s pregnant with twin boys, who will add new life to next year’s event.

A few of the recipes have evolved over time. The women decided the chocolate-dipped candied orange slices were a little too unbalanced in favor of the orange, so Loren’s husband, Bill, offers his services each year by cutting them in half. Now, there’s a just enough orange to match the dark chocolate.

Because the tradition of making candies has gone on so long, both women have been asked repeatedly if they’ve ever wanted to open their own chocolate shop, but the answer is always the same.

Chocolates dry before being packaged.

“We’re not in the sell mode,” says Loren, who works at USAA. “We’d have to charge an awful lot for the chocolates.”

That includes customizing a few tins for special people in their lives. Loren’s brother, for example, gets a regular tin and an extra filled with nothing but coconut balls.

Working with so much chocolate has taken its toll on the two women. Neither eats much during the process, and Loren confesses she’s had her fill. “I can’t really eat chocolate any more,” she says.

But that won’t stop the tradition from going on. There are too many grateful recipients on each woman’s list. As Loren says, “It’s a labor of love.”


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It’s Time for Some Sunflower Shoots Straight from Braune Farms

Sunflower Shoots from Braune Farms

Julie and Jeffrey Braune of Geronimo, near Seguin, bring their finest and freshest to the Pearl Brewery on Saturdays, while the family has another booth at New Braunfels Farm to Market.

Last Saturday, the lineup included fresh red and white onions, potatoes, tomatoes, pickling cucumbers, peppers and several types of squash, including yellow zucchini while the couple’s daughter, Janae, sells bouquets of zinnias as part of her 4H project. Free-range eggs were another big seller.

One item the Braunes offer year-round is sunflower shoots, which Julie Braune talks about in the accompanying video, which she made during a quick moment between a flood of customers. Find out how to use these great tasting treats by watching Julie Braune’s video.

One taste of the sunflower shoots will convince you why there are lines for Braune’s items every Saturday.


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Wondering About Wine? GoTexan WineCasts Can Help

winecast-screenshot-2009-06-09The Texas Department of Agriculture wants you to know more about wine.

To that end, it has produced a six-video series featuring some of the state’s winemakers and vineyard owners discussing grape varieties and wine styles. The series can be found at or at the GO TEXAN YouTube channel (click here).

In the introduction, Susan Auler of Fall Creek Vineyards in Tow discusses the growth and history of the Texas wine industry with Tanji Patton.

In the second clip, Pat Brennan of Brennan Vineyards in Comanche details the rise of viognier (vee-ohn-yay) as one of the white grapes proving especially suited to Texas soils. Viognier displays peach, apricot, honey and citrus characteristics, and it can be paired with a variety of foods.

Kim McPherson of McPherson Vineyards in Lubbock talks about the success Texas winemakers have had with sangiovese in the third installment. This light-bodied Italian varietal goes well with pork, spicy fish dishes and cheeses.

Jim Johnson of Alamosa Wine Cellars in Bend discusses the Spanish varietal tempranillo, which loves hot climates like those found across Texas. In the fourth video, he talks about pairing the hearty red wine with leg of lamb.

Franklin Houser of Dry Comal Creek in New Braunfels showcases Black Spanish in the fifth piece. This varietal is proving to be resistant to disease, heat and humidity, making it an appealing option for grape growers and winemakers alike.

In the final video, Merrill Bonarrigo of Messina Hof in Bryan discusses port-style wines and other dessert wines that Texas is producing.

These videos are great introductions. Now, take that information and apply it to your tastings.

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