Monday, December 20, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
|"Did you catch that game last night?"|
"See what _______ is wearing today? WOW!"
"Best episode of our favorite trashy show. . . . .I can't believe they got together"
|"Is the tube kerfunked?"|
"Is the _____hose squished? BUMMER!"
"Worst thing I can think of happening. . . . .I can't go this long without Earl Grey"
Outlined above is Water Cooler Chatter (WCC). The WCC on the left is that of a typical office. The WCC on the right is that of Element Bars from the past two days because . . . ..
Our water cooler has been broken.
We did not panic initially because part of the culture at a start-up and spirit of a good entrepreneur is tackling the problems that arise with a smile on your face.
"Yes I saw the game. Block somebody, I mean for real."
"No, I have not seen what _______ is wearing.
I will look for an excuse to venture over there."
"I can't believe the two of them got together either.
Great writers on that show.
When that other guy comes out of a coma he is going to lose it."
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
My answer: The one I have every day for breakfast.
For the past two years, I have had what I call "Quality Control Breakfast" to start my day. This meal consists of a cup of coffee I brew at home and an overrun custom bar I pick up from the bakery. Overrun bars are left over after our custom batches are mixed, baked, cut, wrapped and boxed. Not every batch has an overrun bar and almost all our overrun bars are not big enough to package as a full bar. While overrun bars are not as big as the bars we send to our customers they still provide a healthy start to the day and allow me to test the freshness and taste of the bars we are producing in the bakery.
I once read an interview with Jim Koch founder of The Boston Brewery brewer of Sam Adam’s Boston Lager and he said that he had “5 or 6 quality control beers a day!” Which had me thinking I was a lot healthier being in the bar business as opposed to the beer business.
Keep creating "your bar, your way" but if you are thinking of me and my breakfast, add one fruit and one nut to a chewy core and have the label say "Good Morning Jonathan".
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
To be honest, I surprised myself by finishing as this was only my second time on a bike since May having broken my finger earlier this summer. Note to Element Bar-Blog readers: If you're considering breaking one of your fingers, take my advice and do not. It's not as fun as it sounds.
The next day, I was admittedly creaky but definitely not sore having eaten the high-protein Blueberry Repair bar after the ride.
Now, if only I could find some custom butt-pads...
Judging by the number of letters/emails I have received saying “your blog changed my life”, “I sent this to all my friends” and “move over Hemingway” I don’t think I have a very wide readership. All the emails I have received of this variety have been sent from my personal email account. So, although I have blogged about “All Hands on Deck” days at Element Bars before, I think I might need to again.
At start-up companies, “All Hands on Deck” days are days which everyone in the company needs to stop what they are doing in order to help in another area of the company. These are great days because it means that there is a high demand for our product. At Element Bars “All Hands on Deck” days require help in the bakery. Last week after a call from the Big-Boss-Man, I threw my hair net on (which is quite an accomplishment because I am in desperate need of a haircut) and I set off for the bakery.
Due to the large number of orders we had to fulfill there were a bunch of bars that needed wrapping. When I arrived at the bakery, the unwrapped bars were sitting at the base of the flow-wrapper. A flow-wrapper is a machine that runs bars on a conveyor belt, wraps them in plastic and then heat seals the bags so they are still fresh when customers receive them. Our particular flow-wrapper has a conveyor belt, wrapping spool, cutter, sealer and temper. Fortunately, we have two Flow Wrapper Whisperers at Element Bars-Jonathan and Raul. These two guys can take even the wildest of flow wrappers and calm them down to help wrap bars.
During the “All Hands on Deck” day last week, Jonathan was whispering to the machine, Chris was feeding bars and I had was having an epiphany—my freestyle rap name. Now, I have never freestyled because I worried I would be really fantastic. My fear was I would be freestyle rapping on my morning commute or while grocery shopping and a record producer or Rihanna would approach me and want to collaborate on a record. I would be enthusiastic about the prospects when the inevitable question would come up “so what is your stage name?” I wouldn’t have a name and the project would be shelved. But now, thanks to Element Bars and the demand for our product I can rap freely because I have a freestyle rap name, Flo Rapper.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Everyday, I have a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. No jelly, no banana, no honey – peanut butter. As best I can tell, my coworkers’ thinking about me in this regard is generally split between asceticism and insanity. Rest assured, there’s no mad-man in the bakery.
Lunch has always held a functional, almost utilitarian role for me. Just a chance to quash my hunger in between the more interesting breakfast and dinner. Plus, one can only be so creative brown bagging a lunch.
More importantly is the huge variety I have in my breakfast. Every morning, I eat a different Element Bar. This morning, the bar was chewy with blueberries and cherries. The day before, it was crispy and was loaded with walnuts and an omega-3 boost. I try not to look at the ingredients on the back and surprise myself – see how many I can guess.
By my rough calculations, there are over 88 million possible Element Bars. Can you come up with a more accurate number? Drop us a line on the Contact Us page (don’t forget to show your work!) and you could win a dozen custom bars on us!
Monday, August 9, 2010
Element Bars should move to Europe. Or at least start heavily distributing there.
Neon tank top-bucket hat with a chewy-blueberry bar. . .sure. Collared shirt-speedo combination while munching on a datey-cashew bar. . .sounds great. Now I am not claiming to be a big fashion buff like a Ralph Armani (although I don't think my Aqua Socks should have been vetoed as appropriate dinner wear) but I believe that people who like to swim in a soccer jersey and jean shorts would love a custom made energy bar to snack on.
I have a theory: Due to the vast cultural richness and limited geographic space in Europe, individual Europeans choose the aspects of the cultures they like in their lives and their wardrobes whether or not they seem to "go together". Therefore they would love to build a bar to there exact specifications whether or not the ingredients seem to "go together".
There is a wonderful possibility for Element Bars here. . .and by here I mean Europe.
Monday, July 26, 2010
Last week, I talked about building a homemade smoker. During the hot summer months, I recycle the terracotta pots into vegetable planters (their actual use) and my mini urban vegetable garden recently produced its first cucumber. I have heard some tall tales in fishing, but this cucumber was *honestly* humongous - over 14 inches long. . . and the taste and texture were spot-on (crispy, not bitter and not watery - a great summer treat). In my experience, if you take the time to make it yourself, it always tastes better. That's why I started Element Bars back in 2008 - why have some company tell you what you like in an energy bar when you can build your own custom energy bar.
As I reread last week's story of tinkering, I realized that good problem solving (which is at the heart of entrepreneurship) starts at a young age. Since there was no class on entrepreneurship at my high school, the groundwork was actually laid in my high school speech and debate program. In that class, I had to learn how to listen to an argument, understand the problem, break it down into its component parts, and then construct and defend my position.
Now there actually is a non-profit, The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), which is dedicated to teaching entrepreneurship in schools. I have volunteered at different NFTE events and have had the privilege of speaking at both the Business Building Boot camp and, just last week, at a NFTE teacher training session. Entrepreneurship can be a great platform for teaching and NFTE was actually just awarded the best math curriculum of 2010. What better way to learn math than applying it to real world businesses?
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Jonathan Kelley is a Vice President here at Element Bars. He enjoys Russian Literature, cooking and spending time with his new baby boy, Edgar.
Over almost as quickly as it began - my so called "marathon" training has hit a bit of a roadblock.
Two weekends ago, the training began ramping up. I ran 9 miles on Saturday, and followed it up with a set of 3-5-3 mile runs midweek. After that, my knees felt tired. They weren't sore like in the first few weeks, just tired and aching. I'm a sensible guy - this is my body telling me to slow it down. After all, I hadn't really run since high school. As of this past weekend weekend, I'm officially calling it off....no marathon for me this year...better luck next year, as they say.
[Cue the miniature violins] The original plan to run a marathon was a bit of a pipe dream. I hadn't run much in the last ten years or so. My overall endurance was subpar. I was winded after a mile, my legs were wimpy, you know the rest. The first few weeks proceeded surprisingly well. I could run further each week, my endurance made it easier, my experimental endurance fuel tasted better, all according to the Hal Higdon plan....until it wasn't.
I started noticing a strange tired feeling in my knees. The kind of feeling that turns into injury if you press it. It's a bit like taking that last ski run at 4:00 as the lifts close and going full speed. When your body is exhausted beyond its normal capabilities, injury is waiting around the corner. Rather than push for some arbitrary goal in my first season of running, I'm slowing it down. The repetitive impact of running must be one of the primary culprits, so I'm taking up some bicycle riding as an alternative. Where I would run 5-7 miles, I'll bike 10-15. The lessened impact makes a world of difference, and if I really press myself, my body gets a comparable workout. So I guess I'm a biathlete now - not planning to start swimming anytime soon.
The best part of this journey - I really caught the bug. I am energized by a morning run like nothing else. I don't even think I'd bristle if you called me a runner now. Endurance training is an aspect of life I hadn't explored since high school athletics, and I've missed it.
So, until next time - I'll be cross training for a half marathon on my Huffy 18 speed and on foot, working on finding those elusive leg muscles, and maybe playing a game or two of Contra.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Tom is the Director of Communications at Element Bars. He blogs on Mondays, is getting married on Saturday and asks that you bear with him in this post because he does have a point.
I am getting married this weekend. I can't wait, I have loved being engaged to my fiance but once I am married, I won't be engaged and if I am not engaged the awkward exchanges of engagement will stop. Here is one such awkward exchange depicted in my upcoming bio-picture Moments of Engagement:
EXT. CASUAL GATHERING OF PEOPLE-DAY
TOM backs away nervously smiling
The movie is behind schedule due to casting difficulties. We are having problems finding anyone elegant enough to play my future mother-in-law, eloquent enough to play my own mother and we've given up on trying to find anyone who captures my eye like my fiance does.
But I write this because I want to give all future grooms two words of wisdom for their upcoming nuptials . . . Element Bars. I am serious. I have ordered bars for my wedding to give the guests snacks for their party favor bags, for the ride from the ceremony to the reception or for a post wedding snack. It's something my fiance and her mother don't have to worry about because they have more than enough on their plates. I was able to pick the ingredients and customize the name. I am not going to give away what I named the bars, but "I can't believe she said yes" and "I now pronounce you no longer hungry" were two names in the running.
So, future grooms, I can't provide you with much advice other than to find your soul-mate, the one person in the world that you are supposed to spend your life with. . . . and then order a bunch of Element Bars for the wedding so that person doesn't have to.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Leslie is an intern here at Element Bars. She is helping to bake and create a new line of Energy Bars. She has brought fresh ideas and willingly volunteers to do anything asked, like today's blog post. . . .
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I pull myself from bed at 5:30. I'll take you through my workout today to give you a sense of what it is like to be a Bulldog. I ran out the door with a Cherry Charge in hand. It was a gorgeous morning-the air was fresh, the sky was perfectly clear and the sun was casting a red glow on the buildings. I don't usually eat much in the morning, but I knew I needed to get some quality food in me to power this tough love work out I was facing. The Cherry Charge was just the thing-tasty and full of good stuff. As the crowd gathered, we all just kind of looked at each other and sizing one another up gauging whether or not each person would make it through the next hour.
Our instructor was a sweet girl who tried her best to be a drill sergant-more endearing than intimidating. We started out in two lines, jogging around the park. I passed a few people, a few people passed me, so I felt I was in a good spot - the middle of the pack.What followed was perhaps the most challenging part of the morning, the count-off. While stretching we had to count off by threes. It sounds so easy, but it took people a long time to figure out that this meant counting to 3, in order. That you didn't get to just choose a number. My personal favorite was the girl who yelled "4!". If only she had had an Element Bar, her brain would have been functioning and she would have saved herself so much embarrassment. I managed to say “two” after the person before me said “one”—it was pretty impressive.
As the workout went on, cycling through stations of dips, jumps, lunges and running, I really felt spurred on by my energy bar- we were like a team! This might be part nutrition based, but just mentally knowing that I had put nutritious food in my body helped me power through those last muscle burning sets. Well off to bed so I can workout tomorrow.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Food is one of my lifelong passions. Naturally, passions collide and I have applied tinkering to food in recent years. What I have learned in my tinkering is you shouldn't mess with the ingredients too much or else food ceases to be food and becomes . . a Twinkie. But that doesn't mean I can't tinker with the devices that make food. Last year, I decided to build by own smoker after being inspired by an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats. I went out and bought two terra cotta pots, a dorm room stove (hot plate) and some wood chips. The first thing I realized was that the stove had an auto-shutoff if it gets too hot (which a wise tinkerer probably installed to prevent dorm room fires). As I sat tinkering with the stove's safety device in what I refer to as my "workspace", my wife nearly ran me over pulling her car into what she refers to as the "garage". After nearly killing me, she got scolded me for almost killing myself via electrocution. I reassured her by simply explaining I had electrocuted myself many times before and lived to tell the tale.
Monday, July 12, 2010
There are days here at Element Bars that I call All Hands on Deck days. All Hands on Deck days happen at every start-up I have ever worked; at Element Bars on a All Hands on Deck day all able bodies need to report to the bakery to help box and ship the bars. It's a great sign for the company because it means we have lots of orders to fill but when we're rushing to meet the 5pm parcel pick up it can get pretty hectic. . . . .
"GET OVER HERE NOW! WE HAVE MORE BARS THAN WE KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH! I CAN'T EVEN FIND CHRIS THE BAKER IN THIS MASS OF ALL-NATURAL TASTINESS" Is how I wish Jonathan (founder of Element Bars) called us over to the bakery. But, he is always polite and composed like he was last Friday . . . .
"Hey Tom, if you aren't too busy do you think you could come on over to the bakery and help us box up some of these bars so we can ship them out? It shouldn't take too long." I calmly answered yes but upon hanging up the phone frantically grabbed my hairnet and took off out of the office screaming "OUT OF MY WAY I HAVE TO GET TO THE BAKERY."
Boxing bars and taping them shut is a humbling experience. . . for me and I start each day with an extremely low self esteem. My hands are clammy in the midst of a driving blizzard and putting me in a hot bakery only makes things worse. For those of you picturing Lucile Ball on the chocolate production line, stop. Even in the most frenetic situations, we never eat bars, as a matter of fact, every bar is already sealed and in a box. It's my sealing it that gets frantic: tape sticks to my hands, sweat pours from my brow and inappropriate language escapes my mouth.
On Friday, as always, all the bars were boxed and shipped to the right addresses. But I wanted to write this, because All Hands on Deck days are what make small companies exciting. Here at Element Bars, the Marketing Director, CEO and VP of New Product Development all are all great at their jobs . . . . and great with a tape gun.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
I’m Chris and I handle most of the baking at Element Bars World Head Quarters. When I’m not up to my elbows in apple-juice-sweetened-cherries, I’m helping answer customer emails and experimenting with new ingredients. I’ll be giving you a peek inside EB and sharing some of the challenges and adventures we encounter in our business.
My job is to provide customers with the all-natural, healthy ingredients they want in a bar that tastes great. Incorporating all three of these criteria in a 2-3 ounce bar is not always easy as my recent effort to introduce caffeine to our Element Endurance bars shows. There were a lot of trials, experimentation, confusion and I was ultimately left scratching my hairnet. While including the caffeine equivalent of a cup of coffee in each bar might sound appealing (especially if you’re like me and spill your coffee fairly regularly), I quickly found out that it tastes like toxic waste. So for now back to the drawing board and when I get it right, it will be on the Build-a-Bar screen!
Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Normally this would just be a bit of scientific trivia, by like 1 in 10 pregnant woman, my wife, Jennie, was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during her 6th month of pregnancy with our daughter, Sydney (happy, both Jennie and Sydney are fine now).
I mention this to give background as to why this article was so interesting to me. Something that affected my family directly might be prevented by a field I work in and is supported by the type of research my brother does. As more research surfaces on this disease and others in the future I hope that Element Bars can help create customized items to help those afflicted.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
The beginning of relationships can be awkward: freshman year roommates, blind dates, bloggers.
Being new to the blog and wanting to share my element with you I thought I would use the best of my ice breakers: “What do you do better than anyone you know?”
By parallel parking I do not mean maneuvering between orange cones in the blog parking lot. My parallel parking skills are at their best in urban settings when parking spot demand outweighs supply and there is inconsistent spot turnover. In these situation you need horn deafness, know how to carnival, ability to spot the spot, ride the rear and embrace the yellow.
Spotting the spot- My eyes are open for sudden movements of cars and gradual movements of people. Here are some particulars I look for:
• Brake lights of parked cars (a sign that the car has been turned on or is backing up).
• People leaving work tend to say good-bye to coworkers with keys in hand.
• People with lots of groceries or shopping bag that need to get to the car to unload cargo.
• Illegal spots near fire hydrants at the beginning of the block where I stalk like a Lion on the Sahara listening to sports talk radio.
Embracing the yellow-If I have driven around for a while and can’t find anything. I take the pole position instead of racing through the yellow. When the light goes green I dictate the pace at which the pack goes around the block. Perhaps something will open up or I’ll spot someone trying to get into a car.
Horn deafness- Embracing the yellow, setting a slow pace and trying to get into a tight space tends to anger people in the form of honking.. . . or so I’ve been told. I don’t hear horns.
Friday, July 2, 2010
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Reflecting on your months of dedicated training, the usual pre-performance jitters, and the energy of throngs of people all meeting at the starting line will get even the most experienced endurance athletes excited. Here's a performance tip from the Element Endurance Race Day Strategy Department: fight the urge to explode off the starting line and stick to your pace from the start of the race!
Here's why: through your months of training your body has learned to store increasingly greater amounts of glycogen in your liver and in your muscles. Glycogen, a stored form of carbohydrates, is one of the three sources of energy that your body draws on during an endurance race. When going the distance at your planned pace, your muscles utilize a delicate mixture of glycogen, carbs eaten before or during the race, and stored fat. The consumed carbs fuel you short-term, the stored fat works more over the long-term, but the glycogen is what keeps you going throughout and gives you your tenacity for that final kick at the end.
Keeping to your steady, medium-intensity pace allows aerobic metabolism to work its magic in the presence of copious oxygen to maximize ATP (muscle energy) production from that glycogen. Holding your pace ensures that your glycogen stores are slowly and efficiently melted down just as you have trained your body to do.
Should you give in to the excitement and energy of the starting area and dash from the start line at a heavy sprint, your body will burn glycogen anaerobically. This is a problem because ANAEROBIC metabolism uses up glycoen 18 to 19 times faster than AEROBIC metabolism!. If you give in to your starting line enthusiasm and make a high intensity push to the front of the pack you will be quickly burning up your precious glycogen and be more apt to enter glycogen debt (also known as “hitting the wall”) by the end of the race.So before the start gun sounds, take several deep breaths, meditate, visualize. Do whatever you must to leave the start gate in a focused, relaxed state-of-mind, and most-importantly, at your planned pace! This will keep your muscles pumping all the way to the end, keep you from hitting the wall, and may even help you sprint the last straight-away to the finish line!
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Photo CC from Lincolnian
Shakespeare was a literary genius and an accomplished marathon trainer. Who else could through a thirteen year old girl so eloquently articulate the injustices of society, agonies of love and the benefits of a good pair of socks?
O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
You can feel the thirteen-year-old Juilette’s pain here as she soliloquizes as to why society and family feud’s will not let her and her beloved, Romeo, be together (imagine if she had Twitter). What you don’t feel is what I felt last Saturday on my toes after my seven mile run. It took this pain for me to realize that Juliette is also doing is letting us know that good socks are essential to training for a marathon.
I’ll explain: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” means that the essence of an object or person cannot be captured by name alone. If we take the inverse to be true (which Shakespeare intended) then a name cannot capture the essence of an object. Take note of that when you walk by the “athletic sock” bin at Target.
On a recent “long” of my marathon training program, I wore one such pair of white ankle length “athletic socks” and believe me, I felt Juliette’s pain.
For those of you who think that this is much ado about nothing I will point to the giant blister on my toe.
On my recent seven mile trek, I was cruising around mile 5 (after a short but refreshing recovery walk), and noticed a growing discomfort in my big toes. I don’t pronate too much, so I quickly realized that this little pain was just the seed of what would become a big fat blister by mile 7.
The culprit, “Athletic Socks”, wherefore art thou my “High Performance Athletic Socks”?
Why was the term “Athletic Socks” used for these elastic pieces of cotton if they were not really made for athletic activities? Could it be that these socks are more limber, stretchy, and supple than dress socks, so they can be characterized as athletic in their own nature?
There are many things a beginning runner learns – and this will surely not be my last lesson. Clearly good equipment for your feet is a must have and I just wish I realized it when I readRomeo and Juiliette 15 years ago.*
* I may or may not have more recently seen the movie by the same name featuring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio
Friday, June 25, 2010
Remember Jell-O(R) Jigglers(R)? The fun little fruity gelatin creations I (and am guessing you) threw at your siblings.
Well, as my endurance training has ratcheted up over 6 miles, I've found a need for hydration and energy to make it through the run. Wanting to add a little variety to my pre and post run Element Bar I found myself in the rarefied space where endurance training meets entrepreneurial spirit... the kitchen. My intention was to create something that I still don't know what to call: Endurance Goo, Endurance Jiggler, Endurance Gummy. I assumed that all it would take is a little electrolyte, a little complex carbohydrate, a little simple carbohydrate. The result:
Endurance Fuel gEeeew
These turned out so bad, that my own mother spit them out. Cringing, she tried to breathe between gasps of, "They're disgusting", "Why didn't you warn me", and "Eeew". They probably fit better in a cup of tea than in a workout, but they are effective. On longer runs that actually qualify as endurance training, I wrap a chunk of goo in a small piece of plastic wrap and bite off a pieces as I run. I keep the goo in my cheek getting a steady flow of sugars to keep my energy level high.
I'll post again soon with a revised recipe that should be more palatable. Until then, enjoy your experimentation, and schedule a dentist appointment for those cavities. If you also want to try your own endurance goo then read the rest of this post as a step-by-step process of what you should avoid.
After finding recipes for Gummy Bears online I figured I was ready (in retrospect, a mistake). Sugars and a little electrolyte in the form of salt and calcium chloride or Powerade endurance sport drink would give me a fruity gummy that could get me over the hump. Endurance training is taxing, so I just wanted portable fuel that's easy to eat, whatever the format.
I started with this recipe (Check the Notes section at the bottom for more clarification/tips)
modified from This Recipe from Recipe Secrets
1 box of Powdered Pectin (1.75 oz)
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1 cup of to-remain-unnamed red Endurance Sport Drink
1 cup of Honey
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cupcake baking tray (pretty good for cooling, though a brownie pan would work too)
1. Combine the pectin and baking soda in a decent sized (medium+) saucepan. Add your Sport Drink (or water), stirring until the pectin is dissolved. As you heat it...the mixture will foam. Keep stirring until the mixture is thick, smooth, and clear. (This was tough to discern, because of the foaming, basically just stir on a simmer for 2-3 minutes). Remove heat, cover saucepan to keep pectin warm.
2. Combine the honey and sugar in another saucepan (preferably a Large-ish one, because this stuff bubbles like crazy). Stir until the sugar dissolves, make the sugar mix boil.
3. Use a candy thermometer (I didn't have one, so I panicked and looked on google for what a "hard ball" consistency was) on the pan and cook until 260 F (hard ball stage).
4. Once you hit the hard ball stage, add the pectin mixture immediately (prepare for some noisy steaming), and return the sugar mix+pectin mix to a boil. Boil for exactly 1 minute (I'm pretty sure this is a tad flexible, but get it close).
5. Add any zest, juices, etc, and mix. Pour the resulting syrup into your molds. I used cupcake molds, and these worked great. Let it sit until cooled and firm. The recipe said wait 5 hours, but mine were pretty firm in 2-3 hrs. I didn't use any non-stick spray or anything, and they came out of the metal mold pretty well...a little spray would have helped the release (but I really hate adding any unnecessary processed ingredients to my food)
6. While still in your mold sprinkle some superfine sugar on the tops to help prevent sticking. Commercial gummies often have Carnauba Wax on the outside to coat, preventing sticking. Believe it or not, I didn't have any lying around in my pantry, so sugar had to do.
1) Superfine sugar - This stuff is like tiny normal sugar crystals...it IS granulated though. Powdered sugar is not a good substitute. Mine got slimy, because I overlooked this fact and used powdered sugar...goop city.
2) Hard Ball - Candy makers know all about this. The rest of us don't. Candy goes through stages as it is heated, and different temperatures and sugar concentrations create different candy types. A "Cold Water Candy Test" is used to determine if the concoction is right for your candy type. Check out this article if you're interested (Sugar Stages). I resorted to actually testing mine, and the little sugar turned into a slightly malleable ball of Endurance goo when dropped in water.