VDay. Ruining Good Chocolate Via Stress for at Least 147 Years

dead cupidSTRESS! But a few days left until #VDay2015! What to do, to do, to do, etc. The whole 24 hours are supposed to be about “love” … and not (in polite society anyway) the kind between mother and child. The love we’re talking about is fed by CHOCOLATE!

The tradition is a fairly long one. Richard Cadbury began to mass produce the “chocolate box” 147 years ago. The first one featured a picture of daughter Cadbury’s daughter cuddling a kitten and the success led to first Valentine Day candy box — for what it is worth, VDay and Candy begins 496 CE when Pope Gelasius I claims 14 February for St. Valentine and then meanders its way through history. Paradoxically, Cadbury’s time was Victorian, so in keeping with the age the giving of purpley-wrapped candy was a way both to suggest and sublimate sexual urges.

If perchance you want to suggest or sublimate in other, more modern ways and honor old St. Val on or before Saturday, there is always Nutella make-uping;

creating animal chocolates;

mixing your wines and chocolates; or booking a chocolate vacation or cacao-themed cruise.

Of course, you could just go it alone … and without even thinking about chocolate

But not thinking about chocolate can never be recommended. It’s probably better to give in, to not even try and face down this fiesta de amor. Better to live and love another day. Succumb to the pressures of what has become — thanks in no small part to that Victorian capitalist Cadbury — a “manufactured lovefest” no matter the cost in terms of taste.

#chocolate #valentines day #travel #humor #history

Not Just VDay Junk Food

heart on chocolateIronically and regrettably, Valentines Day has become a day not so much to celebrate chocolate as to debase it as a commodity, a mostly forgettable but expected token. Transformed cacao pods gift wrapped in the celebration of a saint (or perhaps a massacre depending on how you are feeling about love this 14 February) is an expected part of the background for the holiday much like tinsel on a Yuletide tree. The result is that for most of the media and holiday participants, chocolate receives the same respect whether the offering is the drugstore staple, a $4.99 Whitman sampler, or an artisanal aspirer like the $260 To’Ak chocolate bar. (Not to insist or suggest that price defines the brown stuff, just that there are recognizable differences in both the quality and meaningfulness between these two particular chocolate offerings.)

It’s a sad state of affairs as, whatever one’s taste, chocolate should never be considered just a junk food indulgence. Admittedly, with just over two weeks left to go it is unlikely much can be done. Even if there was the will there is no way the day can be turned into a festival of analysis about chocolate’s health benefits or a consideration of its reputation as a premier aphrodisiac.

Given the world today, it is definitely easier to go along and get along by treating all chocolate giving and receiving on V-Day within the current desultory tradition. But if you can’t, if conscience or knowledge makes each chocolate an expression of emotion resonating with judgment of the specific qualities of the proffered morsels then the love (or lack of) provided with the gift is a much more complex communication to unravel. It’s enough to give one a cheap-chocolate headache.

For the strong of heart and keen of mind: unless you are absolutely sure of your love for the day vow to neither offer nor accept chocolate. Actually, even for them given how often the day ends in disappointment it might be better to hide oneself away.

To be safe, ban chocolate from V-Day and wait instead for 15 February for when the pressure for perfection in communication is less. Build your own, new and better chocolate traditions celebrating singles awareness day, scheduled for Lupercalia — a Roman precursor to V-Day partly celebrated with the pairing of lovers by random selections from a bowl of names. Just a note: nothing says you can’t celebrate it with another individual, preferably someone with whom you are smitten.

This is all not to suggest that chocolate and V-Day get divorced — or that we re-establish the mating rituals of Lupercalia — just that maybe for the day, good of chocolate, and peace of mind they should gain a bit of separation.

However, if you are going along and getting along in keeping with the current commoditification of Valentine’s chocolate, at the very least put in some effort when you give or gain chocolate (and love).

Happy (Chocolate) New Year…soon

chocolate ideal picSkipping over holiday pieces (at least for the time being) let’s talk 2015 and chocolate trends.

This fruit of the gods is a tried and true pleasure, a long-time luxury with an incredible history that has its ups and downs (as in “white” chocolate).

Still, somehow, great is not good enough. The search is always on for the new, the trendy, the tomorrow. Why? Something about human nature not worth trying to understand here.

Anyway, hearing the breath of Janus getting closer, the most important new year news will definitely be that the “we’re running out of chocolate” hysteria is overblown. The world market is changing, but don’t panic yourself into hoarding a domesday supply of drugstore crapchoc in your apocalypse shelter … yet.

As support for keeping calm, Big Chocolate is planning to still go about its business. Barry Callebaut predicts it will be crunch, acidity and shimmer making chocolate pop, and is expanding its sourcing footprint by moving into Chile, among other new growth territories. Cargill posits transparency in labeling, leading to the PR spin highlighting that what was “bad” with chocolate is actually “healthy” for you. Everyone is fighting over the Chinese market, and there is a frothingchocolate and tea trend. Finally, going all in on the mercenary, restaurateurs are focused on how to cobble a few more bucks per 2015 table with the sales pitch that restaurant chocolate is for sharers.

Rather than look to the business world for guidance, the new year could be the time to confront the difficult facts in chocolate’s backstory such as child slavery in the chocolate fields. Not the worst resolution for the new year is — in the spirit of the gods who first planted cacao seeds on earth — to resolve to help in ways big or small.

Perhaps with conscience salved it will make the search for the new and novel even more enjoyable. Trends are, of course, concepts that enough others have discovered so the idea has spread and one can feel like an insider before masses partake and “it’s, like, soooo over, yesterday, deceased, and penny-eyelidded.” Quirky chocolate-related foodish ideas that recently popped their heads out of the corners of cuisine and might (or might not) take off include
cinammon mini-biscuits with chocolate gravy, and cocoa baguettes.

Those wishing to conspicuously consume for 2015, should keep on the lookout for more fancy-schmanzy, you-are-buying-story-much-more-than-taste chocolate bars such as the current $100 and $260 options.

If the trend thing is too much and you would rather not yet look forward and perhaps learn from history in order to repeat/not repeat it, here’s a quick look at where the science and culture of chocolate is so far:

#chocolate #2015trends #HappyNewYear #BigChocolate #foodies

Halloween & National Chocolate Day DIY

chocolate skull cakeWhy is today National Chocolate Day? It just is, so have a bite (or two, at least) and celebrate! And consider this your three-day warning to Halloween, which also is celebrated with something of a chocolate patina.

Regrettably, H-Day is filled with tricks on kids, provided “alleged” treats that are “fun sized” drugstore chocolate bars. The adult who cares about kids — and we don’t imagine any other kind of reader — is caught between Scylla and Charybdis, either knowingly pandering with choco-crap or not satisfying kids, who don’t know better.

Admittedly, Cupid Alley Chocolatieres does not exist or aspire to anyone out of that moral conundrum. So, let us first distract with the elation-inspiring mash-up of JPop, deathmetal, and #GrlPwr that is Babymetal’s Give Me Chocolate!

… which is vaguely Halloweenish, given the subject matter and a skeleton drummer.

Then let’s get to what you can do to make things better. Ignore stupid myths about how kids are poisoned by unwrapped offerings. You may still decide to offer kids what they think they want, but at least consider aiding young (and old) in rethinking creative ways to enhance the day (again, with its onset heralded by today’s National Chocolate Day huzzah).

Perhaps the right way to do this would be with chocolate skulls made from dark chocolate, or chocolate dirt cupcakes topped by gummy worms, or the seasonal pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. For the ambitious, who wish to span a cultural abyss by engaging T-or-Ters with homemade versions of drugstore chocolates, the Today show offered a short session for DIYers. Just wrap and serve.

While there is little as pleasing as making kids happy with chocolate (preferably good, but if they want lesser then ….), there is that imp of curmudgeonliness within that says come Friday the best thing may be to forget the kids. Put “fun sized” chococrap outside for the taking and cloister behind the door with like-thinking adults to enjoy better chocolate and other delights of a oldster’s life.

Finally, if by chance for today’s “National Chocolate Day” or Friday’s Halloween you find yourself in the mood to initiate a holiday tradition, you can certainly do worse than — in the spirit of the Christmas cookie swap — invite over friends for a [fill in the holiday] chocolate creation exchange.

#chocolate #Halloween #NationalChocolateDay #deathmetal #JPop #recipes

Funeral Cakes, Death, Chocolate & More

chocolate skull cakeOctober is National Dessert Month, and also in its build up to Halloween, a celebration of death in various but still appetizing forms. What could be a better time than to talk about the choice between cake and death, as Eddie Izzard does,

or a touch more soberly to discuss (Chocolate) Funeral Cakes?

Not yet completely soberly. We note that serving a chocolate skull cake might work for some, but is for most people a goober of bad taste at funerals.

Funeral cakes are traditional, and traditionally quick and easy to construct: death is not something for which one is supposed to prepare. Generally, they also aren’t the most sophisticated taste fusions, as there should not be that much time to make them, and, presumably, the baker has more imposing thoughts hanging above his or head. That said, they do come in a multitude of varieties, ranging from the out-of-the-box ordinary to the out-of-the-bottle versions such as Coca-Cola chocolate funeral cake with Coca-Cola icing.

None of this should be confused with Day of the Dead cakes — often, surprisingly enough, baked for weddings. That holiday, blooming from Mexican roots is celebrated post-Halloween, over November’s first two days.

Back to funeral cakes, which also (in hopefully the final tangent) are also not to be confused with the popular restaurant dessert, “death by chocolate,” which is usually an excuse for a junior, so-called,”patissier” at a chain restaurant to see how much chocolate s/he can cram into a dessert at an appropriate for the owner price point.

While death by chocolate is not related, food studies Ph.D. candidates will surely be able to trace the links between funeral cakes, funeral biscuits, funeral cookies and journal cakes. All of which is apparently within the domain of knowledge required of your average funeral director.

For most non-funeral directors, however, all the knowledge of funeral cakes usually required is that it be relatively easy to make and that it mostly arrives as a sheet (or half sheet) cake in the spirit of what The Pioneer Woman calls The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.

One last (promise!) side note, while name-brand chefs have recipes for almost everything, none seems to have put their name on a funeral cake concoction. It’s not clear at all why. Would it really be that bad for their brand? It’s not like they would likely be dragged into a bit of funeral cake and workplace noir (as envisioned by Team Action Seal for the 2014 Austin 48-hour film project), featuring stolen break room swag and the may-it-live-forever-online quote, “My [funeral] cake was gone and my life was over. Things couldn’t get any worse. Then things got worse …”

#chocolate #halloween #dayofthedead #foodhistory

Labor Daying with Choc, Veg & Fru

broccoli dipped chocolateUnsuccessful is the search to find a natural connection between Labor Day and chocolate,which is as good a reason as any to create one. But why shouldn’t work be honored and summer’s end commemorated with a chocolate themed repast featuring vegetables and fruits despite this being a day most people (boringly) think has to be only about charred meat?

It is the season for a sort of [vegetative?] thinking. Vegetables and fruits are ripe in stores and on farms stands, making it the perfect time to clear up the confusion that seems often to exist when parents and young children deal with chocolate and vegetables … assuming you need another reason to eat well.

On the subject of confusion regarding chocolate and vegetables, it is also worth pointing out to veggie-phobic adults and children that sadly for them there is no truth to reporting from satirical site, The Onion, “… that many vegetables, including carrots, eggplants, and zucchini are evolving rich, creamy chocolate centers in order to ensure their survival as a species.” Dear Veg-Phobes, you need to find the recipes that bring the flavors together, not misplace faith with Frankenfood manufacturers!

To help all along with feeling better about their veggies, why not begin the Labor Day feast with chocolate frozen cocktails? If you’re feeling particularly adventurous and want something non-alcoholic kids can put something non-alcoholic in consider Bakerella’s chocolate cups. Maybe even throw onto the table some OurBestBites’ Chocolate-Strawberry Nachos.

If more convenient to stay inside during the preparation and before taking the party al fresco, keep in mind the somewhat finger-foody Sweet Potato and Tofu Enchiladas courtesy OhMyVeggies; Cara’s Craving’s Mole Tofu Tacos; or combining a slow cooker roasted veggies with an Americanized mole.

On the other hand, if you prefer bringing naked veggies to perfection on the grill consider dressing them with a luxurious chocolate port sauce.

Maintaining the party theme, chocolate notes are well savored when mixed with grapes and grains so check labels or just see what stores offer (or track down the particularly unlikely such as Dogfish Brewery’s surprisingly savory Choc Lobster brew.

For dessert, it’s hard to disappoint by mixing a quality chocolate sauce with fresh watermelon, strawberries or any other in-season fruit as a drizzle prior to serving or with a dusk to darkness fondue. To step the fancy up a bit for guests, there is also a chocolate espresso mousse with strawberries option.

All making the labor for this holiday very well worth it, indeed.

#chocolate #recipes #vegetarian

Celebrating Columbus & Chocolate Makes More Sense

ColumbusIt is silly to celebrate Italian-navigator-sailing-for-Spanish-royal-glory Christopher Columbus as discoverer of the United States of America on an October Monday. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about recognizing the Genoan for the much more important role he played in bringing chocolate to Europe, which then sent it back this way.

But, mostly, we don’t.

Even as he brought cacao beans with him upon return from his fourth voyage in 1504 Columbus doesn’t get the nod as a prime player in the drama and joy of development of the magic bean. Today, July 7, “international chocolate day,” we honor instead Spanish Franciscan Friars who by means history does not chronicle achieved a tipping point of popularity leading to today, in 1550, being the official (?) “discovery” of chocolate by Europeans.

And, yes, we recognize this overlooks the historical fact that the actual “discovery” of the human-elating properties of roasting the beans inside the cacao pod, which had taken place years before and thousands of miles away in a different hemisphere. For a somewhat elementary look at that, consider The Discovery Channel’s 40+ minute look at the history and discoveries of chocolate

In case you don’t have the time or interest to learn a few more things about chocolate then just remember the key takeaway from the video: chocolate gets you drunk.

Happy Chocolate Day 2014, the most important 464th (?) anniversary you’ll ever celebrate!

Chocolate Pudding One and All, 2014

chocolate puddingCelebrate National Chocolate Pudding Day with a contemplation (and, soon enough, with the chocolate pudding itself). Alone, pudding can mean nearly anything

Its dictionary definitions are a bit more (well) definitive, but not much more. Basically, it can be almost any dish someone finds delicious [i.e.,edible, for some] but is usually soft, sweet, creamy or thick and served as a dessert … unless it has some sort of protein baked in.

And even pudding’s history is a bit murky. However, where we’re talking “chocolate” pudding, and will ignore the history and meat and fish versions. Which still leaves an enormous amount of room for improvisation.

For a few bites with extra “good” fats — also offering an easy vegan version with a maple-syrup/agave-for-honey trade — consider bacon chocolate guinness challah bread puddingthis Chocolate Avocado Pudding. Or, going whole hog (so to speak) in the other direction, there’s a land out yonder where Bacon Chocolate Guinness Challah Bread Pudding  can run wild.

You can also go southern or secular, as is your want. There’s enough time left in today’s celebration to whip up some Chocolate Banana Pudding with Louisiana flair, or inspire some Jewish guilt in others by serving a Chocolate Babka Bread Pudding.
As the Marketplace podcast [http://www.marketplace.org] punningly pontificated, the goal of this whole contemplation is to be “pudding you in the mood for chocolate.”

DO NOT, we repeat DO NOT end up with some store-bought pudding style cup. While, yes, we did start out by saying almost any comestible could qualify as a “pudding,” you definitely deserve better. And we’re positive of that even though we may not know you.

Chocolate and Cheese, If It Please

chocolate & cheese adIt seems there is a day to celebrate nearly everything chocolate (Thursday was National Chocolate Chip Day; see the Almanac for more). But ’tis untrue. There are still chocolate and cheese combos to honor.

Actually, there are a host of chocolatish delectables more , but this particular un-embraced celebration is brought to the forefront by the recent announcement from British grocerpalooza Tesco that they are expanding their chocolate-cheese offerings. The first thought is “why?” The taste of a good chocolate is distinct with undertones and subtle aroma notes. That taste of heaven makes for an unlikely fit with a delicious bit of cheese, often a standout highlighted by esters and overtones on display like the new girl trying to stand out and drum up a bit of business in Amsterdam’s Rossebuurt. Of course, the answer turn is easily discovered with a quick Google (as most answers are): lots of folks love this sort of thing — whether it is the idea or actual flavor will not be argued here, today.

Particularly when you are trying to steer a few piastres into the till it seems worthwhile to accept that since people like chocolate and people like cheese — not necessarily the same people for both categories, but with enough overlap — there will be experimentation. Folks with enough biz-smart will pimp some of the results despite a culinary natural selection process un-guaranteed to bring about best in breed(ing). Consider, for example Philadelphia Dark Chocolate Cream Cheese spread courtesy of Junk Food Guy.

There will be Frankencheeses you can make at home like the chocolate cheese ball or outlier indulgences such as Paula Deen’s chocolate cheese fudge or Trader Joe’s chocolate cheddar, which appeal to some tastes or others.

Anyway, while it isn’t our cup of cocoa, kudos to everyone who embraces the idea of chocolate and cheese (and that other “c,” Capitalism), with a particular shout out to the Wisconsin dairy industry. On the soft-sell side they offer a a guide to chocolate/cheese pairings and for the harder sell they market their Valentine’s Day chocolate cheese delights (?!).

Back to Tesco’s announcement. We sympathize with why you might not want publicly to own up to such taste. However, for those at home with tastebuds stirred to the point of yearning, consider tossing together a chocolate cheese sandwich or batch of parmesan chocolate cheese crisps to quiet them down.

Chocolating Up Passover

chocolate matzoCacao, along with religion, are connecting ancient rituals and today’s concerns through chocolate seders. The explored theme is that as part of the Jewish Passover celebration (beginning this evening at Sundown) of Jews escaping slavery in ancient Egypt observants find links from their history to the abuse of children and adult workers  who struggle to survive on the path from harvesting to relishing chocolate.

Among the prominent proponents of the connection is Rabbi Deborah Prinz, author of On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, as well as a supporting Haggadah, generally the libretto for the evening’s seder ritual.

The idea of a chocolate seder is not Prinz’s alone to push.

Nor does the celebration of chocolate and the seder have to be about connecting the tears of yore to the sadness of today. It could also be about the food (and not just in the way of the older religion outdoing Easter chocolate bunnies and eggs of its offspring). It can just be about adding intriguing recipes to family traditions, whether it is chacatzo, chocolate charoset, chocolate mousse pie, matzo meal chocolate chip cake, or a flourless (flour and most other grains are not allowed) chocolate roulade.

The idea is to celebrate, connect family, and enjoy. All of which is made better — as everyone knows — with homage to chocolate.