Qs & As with Amy Singh, Chocolatiere, Activist, Educator

Amy SinghAmy Singh, at least partially frozen forever on the internet as the pre-teen chocolate savant, is growing up. The 22-year-old graduated this past May from Boston University with a double major in International Relations and Economics, but there will always be traces of her as a young girl celebrated for her chocolate making skills, not least for her 2007 public service video created to raise awareness about the presence of third world child labor in cacao’s journey to first world shelves.

Prior to the PSA, the sister of three and child of a pharmaceutical company engineer and a nurse, had been recognized for educating her own taste buds and others, and developing her own homemade chocolate brand. However, that video showed how her journey was evolving from an interest in the way chocolate affected her to how it connected the world. It was a vision she pursued at BU, with one of the highlights of those four years being invited to give a Ted Talk in Prague, which she told an interviewer was her first public presentation about chocolate since about age 11.

For all the claims about how chocolate increases brain power, Amy’s is truly a story of how a passion for chocolate opens up the mind, and she has been kind enough to take some time from her new job as an analyst for an educational management company to answer a few questions about where that open mind will take her next.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What is the first taste of chocolate that you remember inspiring your passion and can you name a current favorite?

Amy Singh: Thanks to wonderful parents and family friends, I was exposed to chocolate (good chocolate) from a very young age. And because I live in the NYC area, I started going to the New York Chocolate Show also at a young age as well. These two things definitely ignited my passion for chocolate. I cannot remember specifically the first taste of chocolate that trigged my curiosity, but I was so intrigued by the fact that chocolate was made of cacao, a fruit! That is why I initially began researching chocolate. The complex nature and taste of chocolate continues to excite me. I always have a hard time picking favorites because depending on the time of day and the mood I am in, determines the types of chocolate I want to be indulging in. But if I must choose one right now, it would be Pacari Raw 70 percent (Ecuador) — the flavors of the beans are incredibly rich and also remind me a lot of my own chocolate!

CAC: How did your family and friends participate in your chocolate journey when you were younger?

AS: My family and friends have been quite the support network. I always get asked about how I was able to juggle school, sports, family, friends, and chocolate adventuring when I was young and it really comes down to the fact that I have some incredible people, mentors, friends, family, in my life to make it all possible. My mom likes to say that it takes a village to raise a family and I could not agree more with her. My dad has always been an adventurous eater and has a great palate, so when it came to chocolate, he was always supporting me to dive deeper and go further. I am also extremely fortunate AmySingh2 to have a great friend/mentor, Jim, who has been there always from day one with a lending hand and mind. Jim and my dad used to work together and are both engineers, so as you can imagine that became a huge asset when I was trying to construct my own chocolate factory.

I am one of four children in my family (five, if you include our dog, Ace) and so much of who I am and what I have done and continue to do, is because of my siblings and parents. When I was young, I used to copy everything that my older sister, Anita, did. If she was into a new brand of shoes, so was I! So it is no surprise when I think back to my initial love for chocolate, in part, bloomed from my sister’s love for chocolate. Back in the day, way before I was making chocolate, my sister was the chocolate princess, or at least that was what her email said!

CAC: Which college experiences in and out of the classroom regarding chocolate were most interesting and helped you develop?

AS: One of the best experiences of my college years was studying abroad in London. Not only was it a transformative experience for me personally, but it allowed me to reflect and experience chocolate in a new light. I found that within the United Kingdom, people and stores tended to much more social awareness of fair trade, and so there was much more of it to be seen on the product labels, especially those for chocolate. It was pretty exciting to engage in deep conversations with people about this. I was also very fortunate to be able to travel throughout Europe as well and continue to experience chocolate differently. It also allowed me to reconnect with chocolate experts/friends, like Chloe Doutre-Roussel, whom I met up with while I was visiting Paris

I would have to also mention that my college experiences in Boston, opened the doors to many people and places that I was able to connect with because of chocolate! Many of my photos and videos of my early chocolate adventure days, resurfaced during my college years. My friends thought it was the funniest and “cutest” thing ever! I beg to differ…

CAC: How does being a chocolate celebrity affect your everyday life with friends and family, and do you have a philosophy of how chocolate connects the world?

AS: Ha, ha! Chocolate celebrity! I am truly humbled by that, but by no means do I consider myself a chocolate celebrity (nor do most people!) It is a pretty rare occasion for someone to recognize me as that chocolate girl and the few times it has happened, I was completely floored. I actually tend not to talk much about my chocolate adventures unless someone specifically brings it up. It is my friends and family that have been there from day one of my chocolate journey, that are the ones that usually “brag” to other people about my adventures. It definitely is always fun seeing and hearing people’s reactions though. For example, when one of my close friends from college heard about my chocolate story a few years ago, she was adamant about explaining to me about how and why chocolate making from beans is so difficult… “My friends tried to make chocolate in high school and they just could not do it! It is sooo hard!” I just sat, listened, and smiled!

Chocolate connects the world, because for the most part it is mutual ground for people — whether you have am expert palate or just simply enjoy eating chocolate covered strawberries — chocolate has a unique way of connecting us. For me, it has made the world so much smaller, in that I have friends who I have made throughout the globe because of chocolate. My young self was also never too shy about speaking to people about chocolate, including some of the world’s experts in chocolate. For example, when I reached out to Maricel Presilla, I was just in the research phrase of my chocolate making adventures. She invited me to one of her restaurants in New Jersey and handed me a bag of world class cacao beans, and eventually that led to my very own chocolate. She could have easily dismissed a 9-year-old but instead she treated me with respect and generosity. When the TEDxPrague coordinator who had invited me to speak told me that he had heard about me through a colleague of his, who happened to have worked in a chocolate shop in the Czech Republic, I was once again reminded how small the world can be — and also incredibly amazed that my story traveled so far and took the interest of people that did not know me at all!

CAC: Do you have a chocolate-themed wish list?

AS: Chocolate-themed wish list! I can think of too many things that are on this list including creating my very own version of a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory! In reality though, I do truly want to, some day soon, visit a cacao plantation/farm. I have done a decent amount of research on cacao plantations around the world but have never visited one. It would be a remarkable experience and I look forward to when I can make this happen.

CAC: What’s next for you in continuing your journey of chocolate passion and also in pursuing other interests?

AS: With chocolate, I find myself always being surprised by what doors and opportunities open next. I never imagined or dreamed of being on a TEDx stage giving a talk about my chocolate story! And yet, it happened! I currently do not have any specific chocolate projects at the moment but I am always thinking about next steps as well as always trying to stay in touch and connected with all the wonderful people that I have met because of my chocolate adventures.

I graduated from Boston University this past May with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Economics, and I just started my first post-graduation job. I am working as an analyst for an educational management company that specializes in failing/turnaround public schools. Education is also another passions of mine and just like chocolate, most people have a connection to it and can find some common ground. I am looking forward to being a small part of transforming the education system as well as figuring out how to continue to combine my passions for chocolate — the past, present and future of which an be seen at AmysChocolate.com and facebook.com/amyschocolate.com — and education!

The Outside Is Chocolate; the Inside …?

chocolate shreds balls sticksWhat goes into chocolate? Looking around we’ve recently seen inspiration … and, fortunately not as often, sometimes sadness.

Starting at the happy end of the scale, reading about the glories of Yerba mate led us to a couple yerbamateplanet.com bros chilling in a seemingly slightly dystopic bachelor pad and talking cocoa nib/shredded coconut yerba mate brew

And that got us thinking about and then moving down the path of nutritious, if unexpected, pairings. Recent news highlighted the new Exo protein-saturated, ground-cricket chocolate bar (with tweeted updates from @exo_protein) and the entrepreneurial, Kickstarted “dream” to mainstream insect consumption. [See also, the earlier Q&A with “Bug Chef” David George Gordon.

Following that trail dropped us on top of other news items and recipes, including chocolate beet ice cream, Jack Daniels whisky-filled chocolate bars and celeb chef Marcus Samuelson’s (more from @MarcusCooks) concoction of chocolate bark with quinoa and a dash of cayenne.

Toward the less-happy edge of the scale there is the virus causing frost pod rot that, theoretically, threatens the world’s chocolate supply at some point in the future if not dealt with, and in a bit of how evil can overshadow ecstasy, smugglers encased elephants tusks inside chocolate to sneak them past the law.

But to take the mind back to a happier place and the goodness that should be inherent and infused in chocolate, we also stumbled across chocolate-slathered jerky from Portland’s Shurky Jurky:

Anyway, time to stop thinking about what’s inside the chocolate, start baking and get back to the fun of nibbling at the outside.

Baking Up Some August Romance

heart on chocolateAugust. Hot, sweaty, escape-anywhere-else-on-vacation August. However, there are days in the store, even in this month, when we forget the woes of weather outside and romance perfumes the air.

One of those days recently, the folks in the backroom “lab” were for reasons too difficult to explain thinking ahead to Valentines Day (13 August on the this year’s Chinese Calendar). They started with chocolate as an aphrodisiac as inspiration but then veered to pairing cacao creation with other libido jump starters, like garlic, licorice, cinnamon and clove.

Inspiration for some ideas came first from world-traveling, San Francisco-based Baking Barrister (@bakingbarrister). A few years ago she whipped up some Garlic Chocolate Truffles that give both pause and then pleasure

Next they worked over some ideas mashing up black licorice and chocolate. Regrettably (or not) they decided that the best they could do that day had already been done with Shawn Askinosie [his chat with CAC] having created the 2012 Sofi Silver medalist Dark Milk Chocolate Black Licorice bar and baseball wife Krissie having used anise flavoring for her Krissy Creation (@KrissyCreations) Chocolate Licorice Cupcakes.

A couple commercial interests had staked out the easy-to-make cinnamon and chocolate space with hyper-caffeinator Starbucks providing the recipe for their Chocolate Cinnamon Bread and mega-spicer McCormicks letting folks in on the “secrets” of Chocolate Cinnamon Scones.

When they finally put their minds and rubber spatulas together, they decided to move forward with the baking recipe beta for

Chocolate Clove Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup stevia
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup ground pistachios (alternative: almonds)
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup water (alternative: chocolate liqueur)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°
  2. Mix all dry ingredients
  3. Add honey, molasses and water and blend into a dough ball
  4. Cover and refrigerate about one-half hour
  5. Flatten dough ball and place cookies with about 2″ diameters on a lined sheet
  6. Bake 15 minutes and let cool

Eat, share and bring on summer sultry seduction!

Questions and Answers with JoAnna Carl, author of the Chocoholic Mystery series

JoAnna CarlCozies, the mystery subgenre,  are how Grammia takes her attention away from worrying about whether there will be enough money next time she rings open the cash register. She recently delighted in the combination of fine chocolate and taxidermy while knocking off JoAnna Carl’s The Chocolate Moose Motive, the author’s most recent tale of murder, mystery and fine chocolate.

Whenever Grammia (a conglobulation of Grandmother and Mamma Mia with roots lost to time) updated everyone back of the Cupid Alley shop with the latest from Warner Pier, the resort town on Lake Michigan where Texas beauty Lee McKinney seems regularly to stumble upon a little bit of death and a whole lot of intrigue while managing Aunt Nettie’s TenHuis Chocolade shop, we began to think (too gruesomely and probably too glibly) of how much we’d like to see the book adapted for television — possibly under the title “Murder She Ate,” celebrating Carl’s mysteries, chocolate on television and also giving a shout out to the forever syndicated show starring Angela Lansbury as writer Jessica Fletcher who was always turning up something amiss in Cabot Cove, Maine.

Accompanying the dream of future television shows is the desire to learn more about the author. In real life she is a fifth-generation Oklahoman and former newspaper reporter for a quarter century or so, who loved mysteries from earliest reading age, was encouraged into writing cozies by a book editor and decided to base it around a chocolate shop as a daughter was then employed in one. She is also kindly enough to share a few minutes and answer some of our questions.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: Do you remember the first chocolate that made an impression on you and is there any path you can draw from that taste to the Chocoholic Mysteries?

JoAnna Carl: My mother loved chocolate and mysteries. As a pre-schooler I can remember loving chocolate milk, which she told me I called “choc.” Once, she said, she was reading when I asked for “choc,” and she replied, “Let me finish my chapter.” I sighed and said, “Whenever I ask for choc, you say you want to finish your chapter.” So you see that chocolate and mystery were linked in my mind from early childhood. There’s no direct path from choc to Chocoholic, however.

CAC: What about a business selling chocolate suggested that it would make the perfect base for series of mysteries?

JC: The Chocoholic Mysteries were inspired by a former editor, who suggested I “try something cozy.” When your editor makes a suggestion, a smart writer takes it seriously! It took me about eight hours from his suggestion to the recollection that my younger daughter was business manager for a small company that made luxury chocolates. Then the next day (I was at a convention) Earlene Fowler, author of fabulous mysteries with a background of quilting,  commented, “No one’s ever written a series with the word ‘chocolate’ in every title.” My heart leaped, and I said, “Someone’s about to.” And Earlene said, “The idea’s all yours.” I give her all the credit for inspiring my titles!

Anyway, by the time I flew home from the convention I was well into the world of chocolate. First, because I could ask my daughter questions, it would be easy to research, and for a lot of reasons I won’t enumerate here, I needed to act fast on the editor’s suggestion. Second, it was an idea I could adapt to a small town setting, and I prefer a small town setting for a cozy. Third, there’s nothing in the world more cozy than chocolate, and that’s what the editor wanted.

Sometimes readers act disappointed when they hear that writers come up with ideas to order, so to speak. But every truly professional writer I’ve ever known has done this. It’s what makes us “professional,” I think. After all, being “professional” means you get paid for your work, right? On the other hand, a good writers write what they feel compelled to write, say what they have to say. Perhaps an analogy would be if a customer came to a dressmaker and said, “I need a gown for the Oscars.” A professional dressmaker wouldn’t then design and make her a pair of overalls, no matter how much the designer herself loved denim. But maybe overalls made of velvet and trimmed in tulle… Does this make any sense at all? A creative professional can give the customer what she wants, so to speak, while still being creative.

CAC: A particular treat of your books is how “chocolate lore” is infused. What are your favorite bits?

JC: I like the historical bits. One of the most fascinating books I’ve read about chocolate was The Emperors of Chocolate by Joel Glenn Brenner. This is a look at the long and bitter rivalry between Forest Mars Sr. and Milton S. Hershey. These two giants of American culture and of industry had lives as dramatic as any novel could be. Okay, you’ve uncovered one of my secrets! I’ll always be more interested in people than in the melting point of chocolate. My books are mysteries, not how-to books on chocolate.

CAC: What are your personal favorite chocolates and how has writing about chocolate changed the way you enjoy chocolate?

JC: My favorite candy bar is Cadbury’s Caramello, and I’m also very fond of Heath Bars – to the point I don’t dare have either in the house. At least neither stays in the house very long. For homemade chocolate, I go for “Gran’s Fudge” or “Linda’s Toffee.” The recipe for “Gran’s Fudge” is among the lore in “The Chocolate Moose Mystery.” Linda’s Toffee is even better than a Heath Bar, but I’d have to track Linda down and get her permission before I could hand her recipe out, and I’ve lost touch with her son, who gave it to me.

Okay, okay, I admit I’m a chocolate lowbrow. Real chocolate aficionados taste chocolate much as wine freaks taste wine. First, they want only dark chocolate pastilles, little squares. they sniff it. They let it melt on the tongue. But I assure you they do not spit it in the waste jar! I, however, like sweet fillings, nuts, and other goodies mixed with my chocolate, and I wolf it down.

CAC: If you will, what kinds of recipes, mysteries and ideas are being cooked up in the kitchen of TenHuis Chocolade for future books?

JC: Things have changed for TenHuis Chocolade, and that’s largely because my daughter left the chocolate business and went to work for a chicken wing company. (My new editor loves chocolate, but says there’s no mystery in the chicken wing business!) Of course, she remembers a lot about chocolate – as I say, she was in the business office and didn’t actually dip truffles, etc. But I was lucky enough to meet a really nice chocolatier named Elizabeth Garber (Twitter’s @IndyChocolate), who owns and operates Best Chocolate in Town in Indianapolis. In addition to making fabulous chocolates, Elizabeth — and her husband and mother-in-law – is a mystery fan. If I need to know how to do something, I give her a ring, and she helps me. Plus, she lets me copy her product line. So the chocolates offered by TenHuis are a bit different from the ones in earlier books — more exotic — but they’re still good and authentic.

CAC: In addition to the mysteries enveloping the world of Lee McKinney, and her Aunt Nettie, what other projects are near and dear to your heart?

JC: I’m not sure I have any projects ready for plugging. But someday…For one thing, I remain an unreconstructed Okie, although the Chocoholic books are laid in a Lake Michigan resort. Well, I love that area, too – we’re “summer people,” after all. But I’d eventually like to write something else laid in Oklahoma. Possibly historical. Oklahoma may have the most fascinating history of any state in the union. I’d like to mine it.

CAC note: The Chocolate Book Bandit, scheduled for publication in October is available for pre-order. Also, readers interested in seeing a different side of JoAnna Carl should consider that while Eve K. Sandstrom hasn’t published anything new in a while, her “Down Home” books are available as POD books (order a print-on-demand copy through your local bookseller) and keep an eye out for announcement of an eBook deal on the Nell Matthews/Mike Svenson books published in the ’90s.

Questions and Answers with ihearttruffles.com’s Judith Antelman

trufflesWhile “follow your nose” is the better known advice, around the store you’ll hear a lot more urging to “follow your mouth.” The idea is to taste, and not in haste, until you track down the elusive flavor with some oomph. We don’t want to proscribe ignoring the other senses in seeking out the best in chocolate, but following just that bit of advice as part of her own lifelong quest for the perfect truffle — those cocoa dusted or otherwise coated bites of ganache — led assistant baker Valentina Quetzl to I Heart Truffles of Montclair, N.J. and trufflemeister Judith Antelman.

Antelman, a writer with credits ranging from the 2001 New York Giants Media Guide to corporate presentations with names like Global Structured Products Strategy (and a whole bunch of stuff in between), transformed a lifelong passion for dark chocolate that first began to germinate while making ‘smores with her sister in their family kitchen into her current business of artisinally crafting truffles and bark featuring fair trade organic dark and milk chocolate complemented by other organic ingredients and flavors from pumpkin to mint to lemon to peanut butter to amaretto to lemon zest to wherever else imagination and inspiration take her.

What struck Valentina when she finally tracked Antelman down was the chef’s self-described search for “the pure truffle.” And so, after she also agreed to the courtesy of answering a few questions, it was about that we first wanted to know:

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: Can you describe how truffles snagged your heart?
Judith Antelman: I was looking for a pure truffle, which is dark chocolate and cream. I couldn’t find anything made without a combination of butter, egg, oils, corn syrup, glucose, etc. So, I experimented in my kitchen, reading and researching until I perfected the original French truffle. From there, I started infusing the truffles with pure fruits, herbs, coffee beans, liqueurs; using fresh organic ingredients only.

CAC: Why were you looking for a pure truffle? Was it a personal quest or a followup to your Wall Street career or had you already decided to start up the business?
JA: Everything I tasted was mixed with added ingredients, thus the pure taste of cocoa was lost. Many truffles tasted like plastic, or were too buttery, or just weren’t right for any number of reasons. I like clean food; I wanted a clean pure chocolate tasting truffle; not a mush mouth of sugar and butter. Thus, I experimented. The business was purely a whim initially. I love making chocolate truffles and bark, and was encouraged by friends who loved my truffles.

CAC: What was your specialty on Wall Street and what led you there first, instead of to the world of chocolate?
JA: Wall Street was an accident. I previously had worked as an editor in publishing and academia. Through a friend, I fell into a freelance editing gig in the mid 90s at a Wall Street bank. It was flexible, lucrative, and I enjoyed the other editors, so I continued as a freelance editor until the credit crisis. I worked for a few different banks until the recession.

CAC: What was the process like in putting together your business and why do you think it has found a niche?
JA: It is a small business, and mostly word-of-mouth and my website, ihearttruffles.com. I started plying friends and then parties with truffles, until friends encouraged me to try selling them. It took off slowly, and is still in the baby stages. The niche I found is a result of individuals like me desiring a pure cocoa truffle. Using high quality chocolate and ingredients are crucial to garner a clean smooth truffle. My demographic is usually the foodie with a sweet tooth, but not a sugar addict.

CAC: Is there something in particular that you have learned as an artisan that can help the at-home truffler?
JA: Practice. Practice. Practice. One must love crafting truffles as it truly is laborious, thus it is a labor of love in the greatest sense. It took many years of practice, a few chocolatier classes, and experimentation, which still continues.

truffle plateCAC: What are some of your favorite current and can you share the secret of truffles you are working on for the near future?
JA: Without sharing truffles secrets, some of my favorites are: maple-cinnamon; coconut; and mocha.

CAC: Are there one or two aspects to truffles that you wish your customers knew more about before or when ordering from you?
JA: I want customers to know I combine the highest-quality ingredients, fair trade chocolate, and a whole lot of love in every small batch of truffles and chocolate bark.

CAC: What other projects are near to your heart and what is to be expected from I Heart Truffles?
JA: I hope to open a small chocolate shop at some point in the near future. Location still unknown. Currently, I am crafting orders for Easter, Passover, weddings, and Bat Mitzvahs. I sell to the NJ/NYC area. When I start shipping, I will sell nationwide. Interested customers may refer to: ihearttruffles.com for further information.

Questions and Answers with Madeleine Begun Kane, Limerick Laureate 2013

Madeleine KaneWe know National Chocolate Week is a silly, marketing-driven week of obligation with a non-pedigree provenance. However, that doesn’t mean we’re letting it escape unnoticed. So, with due respect and honor to this third week of March, 2013, please allow us to introduce CAC’s Limerick Laureate, the bard and babe of Bayside (Queens), Madeleine Begun Kane.

A former oboist prodigy and career-change lawyer, Kane is also a national award-winning writer whose work appeared in numerous national magazines and in Mad Kane’s Political Madness and The Journal Of Bloglandia, Volume 1, Issue 2. She also sprinkles humor throughout the internet, on her humor blog, Facebook page, Twitter account and political blog. She’ll also turn up elsewhere serendipitously.

And, serendipitously is how she came to our attention. Swiss intern Hans Suberbraune said that meeting Kane and her husband, Mark, was the one redeeming feature to an otherwise horrible date — that he claims was part of an inglorious St. Pat’s Day weekend, although he isn’t always believable and we aren’t ruling out that he was actually doing some corporate espionage to inform some of the culinary experiments he runs in the lab at the back of the shop.  She let him know about her weekly limerick-off — all are invited to participate — and also turned him onto some of her chocolate limericks, including  …

Chocolate Limerick
Dear candy shop, leave out the filling.
Those rich, creamy innards ain’t thrilling.
I like choc’late that’s pure.
Milk or dark? Both allure.
Must I choose? Okay, dark gets top billing.

Acrostic Limerick Treat
Though desserts can be very enticing,
Remember — beware of the pricing:
Ended up with a bill
Awf’ly high — bitter pill.
Thanks heavens for chocolate icing!

Healthy Complaint
Dark choc’late, caffeine, and red wine
Might harm us, or may be just fine.
Ev’ry news item muddies
My mind with new studies.
Please make up your mind: What’s benign?

Limerick for National Chocolate Day
Oh, no! Did I make a mistake
While baking that chocolate cake?
An ingredient doubled?
Or tripled? I’m troubled!
I should have bought something from Drake.*

and

Yet Another Excuse To Eat Chocolate
If you want yet another excuse
To engage in some chocolate abuse,
It seems eating those sweets
Will create smart elites
And can Nobel Prize winners produce.

She was also kind enough to agree to answer a few questions:

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What were your favorite chocolates growing up and are there particular shops or chocolates that are particularly special treats today?
Madeleine Begun Kane: I can still almost taste those delicious Loft’s Chocolate Parlays of my childhood. They were relatively pricey, so my parents rarely bought them. But once in a while, guests would show up with a candy box packed with Parlay bars wrapped in foil. Alas, our dog loved them too: One day she managed to climb on the table and eat an entire box. But she generously left us the wrappers.

When I was a kid, Krisch’s in Massapequa Park, Long Island, New York was my favorite place for post-concert chocolate ice cream sodas. And to this day, they’re still selling wonderful ice cream and chocolates.

But my favorite chocolatiere is Lazar’s Chocolate, in Great Neck, Long Island. Their milk chocolate turtles and butter crunch are irresistible.

CAC: Can you explain what ties together all the different aspects to your personality: oboist, lawyer, and now award winning humor writer?
MBK: Many writers, especially humor writers, have a music background. After all without rhythm, it’s very hard to be funny. And of course it’s tough for a lawyer to survive without being a pretty good writer.

Nonetheless, such a trio of professions is challenging to explain. But I do summarize it in

What Will I Be When I Grow Up?
Ev’ry decade I change my career.
The first used my musical ear.
I tried lawyering second,
Till humor scribe beckoned.
What’s next? I just can’t wait to hear.

CAC: Do you find any connection between your interest in chocolate and limericks?
MBK: No, but I’m open to suggestions.

CAC: Do you have favorite chocolate recipes?
MBK: I suspect that kitchen implements are involved. So, no.

CAC: Was there a particular inspiration for your limerick contest?
MBK: My weekly limerick contest evolved almost organically: Many years ago, people began to sometimes respond to one of my limericks with their own. This gave me the idea to invite people to write their own limericks using my line. Finally, just over two years ago, I formalized my Limerick-Off challenges into a real contest with Limerick of the Week and other awards.  I now run it both on my humor blog and on my Facebook page, with a new limerick contest posted every Sunday.

CAC: Regarding inspiration, how did you come to write the poems about chocolate?
MBK: I’ve written thousands of limericks about nearly every imaginable topic. So it would be more surprising  if I didn’t occasionally write about something so tasty as a good chocolate.

CAC: What current and future projects are you particularly excited about?
MBK:  Speaking of those thousands of limericks, my plan is to publish several topical books of my limericks: Money Limericks, Marriage Limericks, Legal Limericks, Technology Limericks, Political Limericks, Travel Limericks, etc. I confess that I’ve started this project several times, but something else keeps bumping it. I’m hoping that this year I’ll finally find enough time to put at least a couple of those books together.

Have a happy and ever-delicious National Chocolate Week.

Questions and Answers with Mark Guiltinan, Sequencer of the Cacao Genome

heart on chocolateSomething about people going Valentine’s Day overboard in response to too many advertisements promoting cheap chocolates has sent us seeking repose in the science behind the art of cacao. We still wish everyone the happiest and chocolatiest of Valentines, but our interest on this day this year has led to Penn State Professor Mark Guiltinan, who along with colleagues, has taken one of the late deepest looks ever into what make chocolate chocolate.

The professor of plant molecular biology in the Department of Horticulture in the College of Agricultural Sciences heads up the eponymous Guiltinan Lab, where he studies crop improvement and sustainable farming methods. Among his projects was playing an integral part in the International Cocoa Genome Sequencing Consortium sequencing and analyzing the heirloom, Belize Criollo variety of the Theobromo cacao plant. Their goal was to understand the cacao genome, closely related to the luxury of the Mayans and Aztecs — consumed as a hot drink laced with peppers — in order to breed healthier, higher quality trees and more disease-resistant cacao pods. It was also hoped that the research would yield economic, social and environmental advantages to the cacao farmers and nations. What it was not, was a foray into scary science, or, as he told the Philadelphia Inquirer at the time, “…the main aim of the projects wasn’t to bring the world genetically modified candy bars.”

criolle bean podsTaking a few moments from his research and his own Valentines Day preparations, Dr. Guiltinan kindly shared a few insights into his affairs with chocolate.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What was the moment or event or day or taste that was the inspiration for your personal and professional interest in studying the genome of chocolate?
Dr. Mark Guiltinan: Visiting the cacao growing regions of Bahia, Brazil, in 1995, and witnessing the effects of the witches’ broom epidemic, and how it had made thousands of people homeless, inspired me to focus on cacao. A few years later, the human genome was published, and I realized that sequencing the cacao genome could have a huge impact on accelerating the improvement of this tasty crop.

CAC: What was the most surprising thing you learned from your analysis?
MG: The cacao genome sequence allowed us to localize a gene (NPR1) that is very important in the plant immune system, to a region of chromosome 9 that is known to be very important in resistance to witches’ broom disease. We still have a ways to go to know for sure that the NPR1 gene is the reason certain plants can fight this disease better then others, but were working on that now.

CAC: How do you expect people to use your work to influence the growth and even taste of chocolate?
MG: The genome sequence will be used for the foreseeable future by anyone working with cacao improvement because it offers so many ways to speed up the process. I plan to continue to work on decoding the secrets of the cacao genome as long as I can, is there a better job anywhere?

CAC: In what ways does knowing the science of the taste of chocolate influence your personal experience of enjoying it, if you still can?
MG: When I taste chocolate I think of the different genetic types of cacao that contribute to the different flavors and even imagine the molecular structures of the compounds that we taste. Maybe it distracts from the taste…? I enjoy darker chocolates such as 65 percent to 75 percent and have become found of mixtures with fruits, nuts and other species. I love almost all quality chocolates but am quite fond of Lindt [Disclaimer: we do not receive any funding from this company, unfortunately!]. The Lindt Excellent Intense Pear is one of my most favorite, but there are many others. Come to think of it there are few chocolates I do not like, they are all just different experiences to try and enjoy.

CAC: Are you doing other work with cacao?
MG: We are studying the immune system of cacao to help breeders find better plants. We are working on the genes involved in oil biosynthesis (cocoa butter) that could lead to more or different cocoa butter. We work on the genes for flavonoid synthesis as well, which will someday lead to chocolates even higher levels of these healthy compounds. We also work on ways to propagate cacao through tissue culture which is very exciting technology that has recently been commercialized in Indonesia and is spreading worldwide. We now have made a impact throughout the cocoa growing world!

CAC: Do you have any special Valentine’s Day plans? Any favorite recipes you will be sharing with someone special?
MG: hmmmm let me get back to you on that…..

CAC: What other projects have captured your imagination?
MG: I am interested in working in large interdisciplinary teams to focus on cacao as a vehicle for economic, environmental and social improvement. To do this we need a coordinated plan that brings together specialists in all dimensions of the cocoa value chain, with a common goal to support the sustainability of the chocolate industry, and to help cocoa farmers worldwide. There are a few such projects starting and I hope our team can contribute to these. I also believe that in the future, it will be important to use all technology we have to solve agricultures and societies most pressing issues. One such technology is genetic engineering. While I am sure this is not going to be a popular comment with many of your readers, I believe that one day it will contribute to cocoa sustainability along with all the other tools we have. Towards that end, we are doing research now that will be important when that day comes. Don’t worry anti-GMO folks, there are no plans to release any GMO cocoa anytime soon! It’s just a research tool for now. I plant to spend a portion of my time to educate the public about this issue. If you want to learn more, here is a very interesting article written by Mark Lynas, one of the most anti-GMO activists of all time, who has now re-thought his position.

Questions and Answers with Debby Maugans of Small Batch Baking

debby maugansONE GOOD THING ABOUT VALENTINE’S DAY’s appearance on the horizon (warning, warning: VD2013 in less than three weeks) is its reminder of all we did wrong last year in the name of love.  One mistake for which he hope to atone was to ignore highlighting the creation of intimate chocolates — those meant to be enjoyed by two (and absolutely not just one) — celebrated by Asheville (N.C.) Baking Belle Debby Maugans in her Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers.

Maugans’s first book, the 2005 Small-Batch Baking200 downsized recipes and included a section devoted to Valentines Day, but that wasn’t enough. Inspired by her teen daughter’s desire for chocolate bites made in quantities that too often sat at home after her daughter left for school, seducing in unflattering quantities, Maugans set out to create the recipes for reveling in chocolate, but in moderation.

Forgiving us our sins, the former food editor, recipe developer, columnist, TV and radio personality, food stylist and all-around cuisine biz veteran, kindhearted and talented Maugans let us steal a few moments of her time to learn more.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What was the moment or event or day or taste that was the inspiration for your personal and professional interest in creating chocolate sensations?

Debby Maugans: In the late 1990’s, I attended a seminar during an IACP [International Association of Culinary Professionals] conference, and John Scharffenberger spoke about his new company.  I tasted dark chocolate with a new appreciation and fondness for all things richly cacao, without the sugar and emulsifiers and milk.

CAC: Two years on from the debut of your Small-Batch Baking for Chocolate Lovers, what new thoughts have you had about chocolate for two?

DM: We are fortunate to live in Asheville, N.C., near the French Broad Chocolate Lounge.  We are never without several bars of Mast Brothers and French Broad Chocolates — 70 to 85 percent cacao — from various regions. We break off tiny pieces and savor them from pre-breakfast to just before bed. My youngest daughter loves dark chocolate now, so everything we make and eat is 70 percent and above. The great thing about making those small-batch desserts, which I still do frequently, is they never call for more than one bar. I keep them around for spur of the moment baking.

CAC: Which recipe will you be considering for the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day in your house?

DM: I’ll be making the Bittersweet Chocolate Tarts with Salted Pistachio Brittle. I’ve recently developed a passion for making and eating homemade pie crusts,and small batches are so much more fun and less mess to make.

CAC: Which recipe would you recommend for the less expert baker hoping to make their very best impression on that day?

DM: I would recommend the Chocolate Raspberry Cake Hearts. The steps are each easy, but the results look like the dessert was more complicated. The success from following the instructions and resulting in beautiful small cakes will encourage the cook to bake more and more!

CAC: Are there shortcuts or hints or particular chocolates you recommend to those who want to maximize both flavor and health?

DM: I think that the investment in a good bar of chocolate is worth it to make these desserts. I tested all with Ghiradelli chocolates because I knew that it is widely distributed. And I recommend finding premium chocolate bars and keeping them around to taste when your sweet tooth kicks in — just break off a half-inch piece and let it melt on your tongue. It is quite satisfying and you really don’t want to put anything else in your mouth to take away the lingering flavor!

CAC: Have you found any recipes including chocolate (perhaps ones you’ve already posted about so that I can link to it and not give anything away) or new sources or techniques that you would consider for a possible update of the book?

DM: If I were to update the book, I would recommend and provide information about some of my favorite artisan bars. I would also include gluten free recipes to appeal and make sure we satisfy those folks too!

CAC: Are there any new projects possibly involving chocolate about which you are particularly excited?

DM: My new project, Farmer and Chef Asheville, will include many chocolate desserts — not just for two, but chef recipes that are edited for the home cook. The website is only just begun — I hate to direct readers to it right now because we are only beginning to work out the design — but it will have desserts for two from the book, as well as many, many other chocolate recipes in many meal categories. The site should be up in two weeks. I’m also regularly posting on Twitter: @smallbatchbakin and @farmerchefAVL.

Questions and Answers with Marvin Baum of Chocolate World Expo

PREPARING to celebrate National Chocolate Day (today’s 28 October version, as different from the 7 July “Chocolate Day”, and 27/28 Dec. “National Chocolate Day” variations — as always, refer to The Almanac) we were somehow put in mind of the idea of world domination through chocolate which, when searched for, led us to the Chocolate World Expo.

This ongoing series of chocolate-themed consumer shows have taken place throughout the New York City environs for the last few years and are scheduled to land in Westchester, N.Y., next Sunday, Nov. 4, and New York City’s Armory Dec. 16. (No, unfortunately, we will not be setting up shop at either place this year, except by proxy.) The choco-genius behind the events is Marvin Baum, whose Baum Imaging Group has evolved. The suburban New York hi-tech digital images and computer programming company began working on events in 2004 with a celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Woodstock and moved into the force behind numerous food-oriented special events. In the spirit of NCD, as well as celebration of his upcoming WCEs, leader Baum graciously answered a few questions.

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: What was the inspiration to move from celebrating Woodstock 2004 to celebrating chocolate?

Marvin Baum: The Woodstock 35th Anniversary took place at the New York State Museum in Albany. In 2006, the Museum was having an exhibit on chocolate from the Field Museum of Chicago http://fieldmuseum.org/about/traveling-exhibitions/chocolate. Because I had organized what became the largest opening reception (for the exhibition part of the Woodstock Anniversary) in the history of the museum, they thought I could do a similar event for their chocolate exhibition. I really didn’t want to do just a “reception” with free samples… I wanted an event where vendors could offer tastings and sales, which was the beginning of my chocolate expo concept.

In 2008, I created Chocolate World Expo, my own independent show, in the NY metro area, with about 35 vendors and a vision for a “different” type of chocolate show. Now, I have about 70 vendors per show and the quality and diversity of products offered continues to increase. I’ve also expanded to five locations in three states..

CAC: What have been the most interesting trends that you have since you started the shows?

MB: People want to try new and “different” things. The healthy/raw/organic chocolates sell very well as do most “regular” indulgent chocolates. At the same time chocolate-covered bacon is a very big seller at Chocolate World Expo and the chocolate-covered pickles sold out in about 30 minutes at my last show on Long Island. Beside this, I’d say that dark chocolate is definitely a trend now.

CAC: What is your favorite kind of chocolate and how do you like it prepared?

I’ve personally become a fan of dark chocolate. As a kid, I didn’t like the only dark chocolate I had tried — bittersweet chocolate. I’m finding now that dark chocolates generally are much better and tastier from what existed previously. Perhaps my tastes have also matured.

CAC: Who are some of the more interesting vendors and what are some of the most interesting products the show has featured over the years?

This is really hard for me to give an answer — there are so many interesting vendors. For instance, the owners of Pika’s Farm Table are from Belgium. They import real Belgium pearl sugar to make pastry-like Belgian waffles at my shows. These waffles are nothing like the so-called “Belgian waffles” most Americans think of from the local diner or restaurant. After they make the waffles on-site, they dip them in dark, milk or white chocolate. It’s really a special treat. One person told me he’s coming back to the show this year specifically for the waffles.

CAC: In what ways do you see Chocolate World Expo expanding for the future?

MB: Basically, I’m adding on new locations like the Cradle of Aviation Museum [Garden City, Long Island], Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk [Connecticut] and Lexington Armory [NYC], while also increasing the quantity, quality and diversity of participating vendors. In the long run, I hope to expand to Boston, Washington, Philly and possibly several other cities.

Questions and Answers with “Bug Chef” David George Gordon

IN addition to ingesting cocoa-coated squirmies, can there be a better, more appropriate way to celebrate Oct. 14, National Chocolate-Covered Insect Day, than to check in with Eat-a-bug Cookbook chef David George Gordon, whose recipes include Ants in the Pants (below), which features baked and then chocolate-pantsed ants.

Currently living in Seattle with his wife (and illustrator), Karen Luke Fildes, and a tank full of tropical fish, the just-a-shade-over-60 Gordon grew up poking and turning things in his backyard before getting a degree in biology, working at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and then Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Since, he has written on bugs he hasn’t eaten, as well as slugs, dolphins, sharks, and horses … and attained a fair degree of harmonica harmonium. Taking a break from writing, tweeting, making what a 2008 Time magazine article referred to as his “classic dish” of orthopteran (cricket) orzo, and cooking for students and food festival attendees around the world, he was kind enough to answer a few questions and help us celebrate NC-CI Day

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: How did you get your start as the master of insect recipes?

David George Gordon: I’ve been involved with this topic of entomophagy (that’s bug-eating to you) since 1996, when I started collecting materials that would eventually appear in my Eat-a-Bug Cookbook. Since the book’s publication in 1998, I’ve watched public interest (and media attention) grow by leaps and bounds. I’m currently working on the revised and updated Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, which will be released by Ten Speed Press in July 2013. The climate into which this new book will be born is quite different than for the original edition, which, by the way, is still in print, nearly 15 years later.

CAC: Are there particular bugs or specific ways of preparing chocolate that go best together?

DGG: My best tip is to get the proportions of chocolate and insects correct—too much and you can’t taste the bug; too little and the bugs are overpowering, adding a little too much crunch.

CAC: What kinds of health benefits are there with insects that more people should know?

DGG: From my cookbook [Reading] :

What’s to be gained from a diet of bugs? A grasshopper’s body is more than 20 percent protein. Compare this with the protein in lean ground beef (about 27 percent), and you’ll see why even professional wrestlers could sustain themselves on a diet of food arthropods. Since grasshoppers and their insect relatives contain large quantities of water, their protein content jumps to around 60 percent after these animals are dried — that’s plenty of protein for both John the Baptist and Hulk Hogan to get by.

Many protein-rich bugs are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fats. Ladies, are you worried about warding off osteoporosis? Then eat crickets, which are loaded with calcium. Want to avoid anemia? Try termites; they’re rich in iron. One hundred grams of giant silkworm moth larvae provide 100 percent of the daily requirements for copper, zinc, iron, thiamin, and riboflavin. It turns out that animals that eat greens have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids — the “good” fats in our bodies, whose powers as an anti-oxidant can thwart certain forms of cancer and disease. Many insects contain abundant stores of lysine, an amino acid deficient in the diets of people who rely heavily on corn. Could the ancient Aztecs have known this? They sold corn infested with corn earworm (a small green and black striped caterpillar that more modern farmers consider a nuisance) for more money than corn without the nutritionally supportive bug.

CAC: Are there ecologically sensitive and/or fair trade movements in the farming of insects as there are with cacao?

DGG: Not yet, but it’s coming. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is investigating ways of mass rearing (as opposed to wild-harvesting) insects in tropical countries where bug eating is already part of the culture. It’s their hope that the results of the investigation will help to alleviate world hunger. It’s my hope that the FAO “certified” farms will be considerably less harmful to our planet that the farming of more traditional sources of protein — cattle and pigs.

CAC: What is your favorite chocolate bug recipe?

DGG: It’s Ants in Pants. Here’s the recipe from The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook [by David George Gordon; copyright 1998, Ten Speed Press]:

Who knows what inspired Reese Finer Foods to discontinue its product line of exotic fried and candied insect treats. It couldn’t have been from lack of consumer interest; one out of three grown-ups I’ve contacted recalls eating (and, in many instances, enjoying) Reese’s chocolate-covered grasshoppers and ants as a kid.

Alas, I’ve been unable to uncover so much as an empty can from this once-great bug supplier, or even someone who worked for Reese during its heyday. So in the spirit of entomological entrepreneurship, let’s rekindle the lost art (or is it ant?) of fudge making with Formicidae.

In this recipe, wild ants are frozen, baked in the oven, then dressed in tantalizing chocolate “pants.” My only precautionary note: It’s too easy to “overdress” for the occasion, inadvertently burying the tart flavor of the ants with their rich chocolate coating. So don’t be stingy with the ants. They’re a dime a dozen and only slightly more expensive if you purchase them from a biological supply house.

1/2 cup (about 80 to 100 individuals) western thatching ants (Yield: 10 or 12 candies)

(Formica obscuripes) or other large-bodied ants, oven baked

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into chips

1/2 teaspoon Grand Marnier, or orange extract to taste

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1. Combine the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in the top of a double boiler set over hot (but not boiling) water. When the ingredients are evenly blended, stir in the Grand Marnier. Remove from heat and allow the chocolate to cool to 90°F. The chocolate will be shiny and will coat the finger well.

2. Drip small amounts of the melted chocolate on a sheet of foil or parchment paper, forming 10 or 12 1-inch-diameter discs. Quickly pile up a spoonful of the baked ants in the center of each circle, then cover with the remaining chocolate. Refrigerate.

3. After the chocolate has set, use a spatula to transfer each chocolate bundle of Ants in Pants to a plate

CAC: How are you celebrating this year’s National Chocolate-Covered Insect Day?

DAG: I’ll be playing harmonica with my band at a house party. Hopefully they’ll have plenty of chocolate for the entertainers as well as the guests!

CAC: What are the best and worst bug and chocolate experiences you have had?

DAG: I haven’t had any bad experiences with the chocolate; but I have been attacked by soldier ants while trying to collect their nest mates for my Ants in Pants recipe.

The best experience has been the purchase of my Cuisinart CFO-3SS Electric Fondue Maker Cuisinart electric fondue maker, which allows me to include chocolate-covered bugs on the menu of my traveling bug-cooking demos.

CAC:What’s next for you and bugs and chocolate?

DGG: I have a wonderful new recipe for Chocolate Fondue with Chapulines (small grasshoppers from Oaxaca, Mexico, roasted and seasoned with salt, chile and lime). It and eight other new recipes using insects will be in my updated and revised Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, which will be released by Ten Speed Press in July 2013. In fact, I believe the chocolate-covered grasshopper will the cover photo for that book.

: What kinds of health benefits are there with insects that more people should know?