Choco-Tour 2014

cacao poulain posterLike chocolate itself, vacations are a recipe of ingredients both fantastic and real. Getting away, or just thinking about it, should taste of a dreamy unreality that rewards the mind for the body’s slogging through dog days of sun-blanching, humidity-drenching summer or cat (?) days of icy, sleety stormy soul-freezing winter.

This being the time of year when people take their summer or dream of their winter retreats, it seems right to consider traipsing from the more traditional path of choco-tourism (admittedly a naif travel niche) to span the cavernous divide between chocolate consumers such as a few Dutch captured-on-film, who have never seen the cacao fruit

and cacao farmers, who never tasted the “fruit” of their labors (in a report-gone-viral with something of a staged feeling to it)

Let this be a start for your vacation — the one taken or just planned. Consider the variety of options between enjoying the first world comfort of a Hotel Chocolate, a plantation servicing the British chocolatiere celebrating it’s tenth anniversary, that lets you wander the fields and going hyper-native in Brazil, exploring the romance of cabruca farming (an old-fashioned and ecologically sensible style, planting cacao under old growth forest) .

There’s also the socio-politico-economic-historical version of a world choco-tour exploring how the recent world market price increases are creating new market niches, including making specialty cacao a possible Haitian benefit and a causing an ironic turnaround that now has previously dismissed Ghanaian beans smuggled into the Cote d’Ivoire

Not last, not least consider an online or in-person visit taking in something like China’s Chocolate Happy Land

However, if your imagination and wallet can only take you so far and you need something real in your life (and real as in now), fight the dog days of summer (and think about the frozen, sleety winter of 180 degrees on the calendar) by taking a chocolate vacation, courtesy of the classic Serendipity3 Frozen Hot Chocolate recipe, courtesy of ABC’s Good Morning America.

Ingredients
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup nonfat dry milk powder
4 tablespoons of different cocoa powder
Pinch salt
1 cup milk
3 cups ice
whipped cream and semisweet chocolate (to taste and encouraged excess)

Directions
Combine the sugar, dry milk powder, cocoas, and salt. Blend mix, milk and ice until smooth Pour the milk into a blender. Add the dry mix and ice. Blend until all the ice is crushed and the drink is smooth. Top the drink with whipped cream and shavings from a semisweet chocolate bar.

Brazilian vs. Netherlands Chocolate to Decide Third Place?

futbolA lot of complaints about today’s game to claim World Cup’s third place, featuring despairing host Brazil and The worn-to-a-quick Netherlands. Interestingly enough, among those weighing in is former German star, Der [hopefully only briefly] disgraced and displaced Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer.

No secret: this is a game played for the greater glory of the advertisers and the money that flows into the kingdom of maligned FIFA Godfather Sepp Blatter. Rather than putting the players through another grueling (possibly soul-sucking) opportunity to end their campaign with a loss let’s consider a Choc-off, which, honestly, in many ways makes as much sense as ending a game of fluid and dramatic movement based on the stationary puppet show of the stupid penalty kick shootout. Chocolate reveals the strengths of a nation’s character — along the lines of the popular but discredited theory regarding — as much it can be revealed by eleven folks ability to run for miles in order to kick a ball between some posts and into (or out of, as the case may be) plastic netting.

While it seems to offer the home team a huge advantage, today’s contest should be between the chocoladelletter (more or less a big S for Santa created at Christmas) and the Brazilian national chocolate ball, the Brigadeiro. On the underdog’s side, it would be remiss not to add that we do have the Dutch — specifically chemist Coenraad Johannes van Houten — to thank for Dutch chocolate powder and all its contributions to the world of better chewing and swallowing.

Today’s match-up:

The Dutch Chocoladelleter

vs. the Brazilian Brigadeiro

You choose the winner. And, if by chance you wish to prepare for tomorrow’s final by thinking along these same lines, here is an introduction to German and Argentinian chocolate sides. [Quick note for American fans: In case you are checking in for your German Chocolate Cake info, it is American and named after an Englishman, Mr. German, of German’s chocolate.]

Choco-Tourism Wars

cacao pods_treeAll wars should be chocolate wars.

Just found the press release, and October is “Chocolate Heritage Month” in Santa Lucia, a hey-why-not-visit isle of fun in the eastern Caribbean featuring cacao plantation tours, chocolate making from scratch, and a chocolate infused gourmet meal and a (non-chocolate, but by color keeping with the theme) sulphur springs mud bath.

As far as tourism goes that is nowhere near as exciting as visiting the site of a possible, extended chocolate war. Ecuador and Peru have been causing each other’s soldiers death almost since the time of Simon Boliver — who ironically wanted only to united South America — most recently in 1995, with “final” peace arriving in 1998. However, choco-dollars are at stake and they have moved their competition to battlefields of cacao forests.

Peru, which celebrated itself a few years ago with the largest flag ever made from chocolate is hoping not just that its farmers will switch from growing coca to cacao, but also for big things from people who want to look around on their own

or take the guided tour, just so long as they become one of the projected 1.2 million touristas to embrace Peruvian chocolate.

Ecuador cites its Mayan and ancient chocolate lineage as the lure for those going on a tasting tour or through the semi-official cacao route project (funded partially by the USAID).

Pick a side. Take a trip. Select weapons and ready, aim, taste.

Chocolate Museums and (maybe) Barbecue

cacao poulain posterBased on customer words bouncing off the glass display cases in the front of the store this week it seems everyone in and around Riverside is hitting the road for short and long Memorial Day weekend travel plans. Alas, not us. We’d like to travel, but store’s open. So, when things go slow this Memorial Day weekend we heading to museums around the world.

Chocolate museums, of course.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as accommodating as San’s Francisco Exploratorium museum which provides its chocolate exhibit in an easily explored online form. As a result, a quiet time might be the perfect time to work our way through a New York Daily News article on the world’s top chocolate museums to see what links besides the Cologne Chocolate Museum (which we already knew about) that we can dig up. Alternatively, there is also a more extensive list from the Chocolate Wrappers site [], which has its own seemingly-abandoned Facebook “museum” to virtually visit.

Somewhat related to today’s UEFA Cup championship match setting German compatriots Borussia Dortmund at the throat of last year’s runner-up Bayern Munich, we are also thinking of pitting the Eupen, Belgium-based online offerings from the Antoine Jacques museum against the Brussels, Belgium, Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate for some sort of chocobragging rights.

Anyway, that’s the current plan. However, if the weather turns wonderful and we still aren’t drawing in customers, it may be time to start planning the Memorial Day cookout, thinking inspired by Dying for Chocolate postings of chocolate barbecues recipes they’re recommending.

In other words, chocolate virtual can be entertaining, but chocolate victuals are sustaining.

Out of Office, Out of Mind ChocoTravels

heart on chocolateWhen the forecast calls for rain  foretelling fractionalized foot traffic, our forebrains focus on the foreign. In other words — and without f’ing around anymore — maybe it’s time to take a choco-themed trip? An imaginary one (in case it doesn’t rain or there’ll be more business tomorrow) to Europe.

Let’s start with a quick stop in the land of blarney. Famed Irish potato chip creator Tayto has gone where no one would ever previously considered to dare. They introduced a limited edition, crispy chocolate bar, a flavor with odd appeal worldwide described as “an unusual taste — crunchy chocolate and then a lingering taste of cheese of onion,” consumed faster and by larger quantities of people than common sense would ever suggest. Could there be an odd — and, yes, we do mean, odd — bar left for us to pick up and consider?

Next, it’s southeast to France. There, we’re torn about how to approach Paris. Should we go the ChocoParis walking tour route and head in a pre-planned direction? Or would it be better to wander rue to rue searching for that one chocolatiere that could actually serve as a real life setting for the love stories of Jenny Colgan’s Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris?

Perhaps we should forego Paris and hie to the country’s “chocolate capitol,” Bayonne. The city fathers just begun a two-day festival celebrating cacao creations and paying particular tribute to the traveling Jews who spent some time in the city laying the foundation for today’s acclaim, before getting kicked out because … well just because.

Upon return from this trip of the mind we’re thinking right now to go Italian. End the faux travels with chocolate lasagna, a meat dish courtesy of French-Swiss Francis-Xavier and then follow with dessert courtesy of a post of San Diego’s Vanessa (@cleandirtyeats) who put up a chocolate lasagna recipe at her Clean Eating With a Dirty Mind site.

Back to hoping for work. Delicious travels all.

Cacao (Cinco, really) de Mayo

Cinco_de_MayoFor both victory and defeat there is chocolate. At least that’s how we plan to commemorate Cinco de Mayo, Mexico’s oft misunderstood celebration.

While often thought of — at least by most of its ahistoric northern neighbors (quiz here if you want to test yourself — as a celebration of national independence, the day actually honors the Mexican army clobbered invading French troops on 5 May 1862. The French would come back stronger, establish an Austrian as the country’s ruler, but cacao seeds were sewn and Europeans would be tossed out and Mexico create lasting independence in 1867.

Cacao foods are the perfect foundation, of course, for celebrating the win before the defeat before the win before the struggles that are part of Mexico today and are the legacy that Cinco de Mayo celebrates. So, while we do not imagine anyone using Cupid Alley Chocolatieres as a Cinco de Mayo cultural touchstone, we are putting the finishing touches on our cookies for the day, which take off from Giada De Laurentis’ Double Chocolate and Espresso cookies, and although not yet finished are currently in the form of:

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup dark chocolate-covered espresso beans
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 1/4 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup stevia
  • 2/3 cup organic blue agave
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp. Kahlua
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Double boil chocolate and butter, mix until smooth.
  3. Finely chop the chocolate covered espresso beans.
  4. Whisk chopped espresso beans, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.
  5. In separate bowl whisk stevia, agave, eggs, water, Kahlua and vanilla extract.
  6. Gradually add the dry ingredients and stir until thick and smooth.
  7. Fold in the melted chocolate.
  8. Pour out about 1/4 cup on prepared baking sheets.
  9. Bake until slightly puffed and the tops begin to crack, 18 to 20 minutes.

The cookies go out front. In back, we’ll probably be celebrating with the staff by whipping up enchiladas con mole courtesy of Slate’s L.V.Anderson. By the time the cash register rings shut for the last time while we’ll have decided which tequila brand will be most approrpiate to toast the culinary victories of Mexican cacao culture and accompany the mole poblano we’re planning for dinner.

Skimming Chocolate Headlines

chocolate shreds balls sticksChocolate is good. Wonderful. Marvelous. Sublime, even. But even though cacao has hundreds of years of history, what becomes chocolate isn’t yet perfect every time, partly explaining why it still holds fascination. Everybody who does something new with it may take it (us) one step closer to #cacaonirvana — if there be such a place. So, on an April day when winter and spring struggle for weather domination in a way that seems to be keeping most people at home, we went internet browsing to seek out chocolate news.

Somehow the news seemed to facesmack us in pairs. There was the most genteel of thoughts with the romance of the Vienna Ritz-Carlton’s chocolate sommelier pouring his warm criollo cacao bean brew afternoon to early evening. Oddly, that news mashed-up with the announcement that syrup producer Bosco is expanding its “chocolate” palette by introducing a “mocha,” as its first new flavor in almost 10 years.

Regarding introductions, there were notes about the upcoming London opening of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical [see earlier: Charlie and the Chocolate Novel]

and its sorta real-life corollary with the May opening of Hershey’s Great Chocolate Factory Mystery, a “4-D experience” created with Jim Henson’s Muppet factory workers.

Both of those are aimed at mass audiences, hile those who aspire to an experience a bit more elite will probably be more enthusiastic with the outsized in price and snobppeal, Rabot Estate Marcial 70 per cent dark chocolate bar and its reported notes of shiraz wine, antique oak, roasted cocoa and stewed spiced plums and hyper-marketing of terroir. Perhaps the cacao aficionados who want to take the next step with the bar will be to revel in it on the way to or from an event and stay at the recently opened Chocolate Boutique Hotel in in Bournemouth, a B&B with 13 chocolate-themed rooms?

As for news that might suggest an interesting future for chocolate there is an attempt to patent 3D printing of chocolate suggesting all sorts of patent, copyright and technological squabbling. Putting some oomph into our optimism there was an agreement by megachocohemoth Mondelez (think Kraft/Cadbury) is bowing to Oxfam and other pressurers in promising to try and do right by women working cacao plantations.

Finally, we came upon folks tracking the “holy grail” of all chocolate thinking folk. Researchers think they might be on the trail of all goodness, low- or no-calorie bliss with a fruit-infused chocolate.

Which somehow signals that it’s time to get back to work. Enjoy!

Should Today be Chocolate Fast Day?

cacao pods_treeNine April’s 24 hours might best be used contemplating and balancing the idea of good that comes from evil. In other words, deal with the question of (how?) can one enjoy Belgian chocolate (arguably the world’s best while also knowing that historically evil guy, King Leopold II — born today, in 1835 — played an integral part in making that happen. (For the full, horroracious story, brilliantly and memorably told, take a look at Adam Hochshild’s King Leopold’s Ghost.)

Shortcut: no answers here; talk among yourselves, as Linda Richman would say.

Desirous of an empire of his own, Leopold manipulated European opinion into letting him take over the Congo on “humanitarian grounds” and then used his rule to plunder its resources, making money mostly from rubber plantations, but also building an important culinary bridge for his chef by exploiting the cacao resources. There would have been Belgian chocolate without Leopold, as Spain had introduced its pleasures into the country during 17th century rule, but it would probably not be the same today. Of course, there are some who say that great engineers and location and just pure kitchen genius would have produced amazing results, too.

(source: Revisitar)

But that’s not the way history happened and so, oddly, today you can celebrate chocolate infamy with a chocolate king quilt comforter named for the Belgian royal, butcher of Congo, who helped create his country’s chocolate acclaim and leaving a popular legacy of attraction for chocolate tourists.

Perhaps it should be a day to engage in a chocolate fast as a way of acknowledging the suffering? The larger point: it’s too late to change history, but never past time to think about it in order to influence the present and future. So enjoy, thoughtfully.

Not So Special Delivery

chocolate trainAPPARENTLY, someone got the midwinter blahs and so a new company, Good Cacao, threatens to take all the fun out of chocolate by selling le gran cacao as just a delivery system for other nutritional products. The basic pitch is that they throw a lot of healthy crap into some good chocolate and all bites are super-wonderful-food-functional chocolates. Consider yourself warned.

We’re not knocking chocolate as a delivery system. It’s raison d’être, after all, is to deliver mouth pleasure. We also have recently found ourselves pleased that ye olde brewmaster Samuel Smith brought the buzz with his Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout a valuable contribution to both the beer and chocolate families. Still, there is something cynical about using chocolate to deliver an eyelid jolting dash of caffeine in Awake Caffeinated Chocolate or even as a tourist delivery system to York, England.

We get it. Chocolate is a marketing tool (another word for delivery system) and that is why there is going to be a flood of chocolate-themed junk in the run-up to Valentines Day showing up on tv, in the email inbox, throughout social media and on screens everywhere in between). It just shouldn’t get out of hand.

Although it probably already has.

Chocolate Around the World May Keep You at Home

chinese chocolate soldiersBABY IT’S cold outside … and so time for some choco-tourism news. First catching our attention is Florida’s recently opened Chocolate Kingdom. Featuring five (Five? Really? That’s a “kingdom?”) cacao trees amid its 8,300 squ. ft. (Not to beat up this dead horse too much, but 8,300 squ. ft. as a “kingdom?” Are the citizens amoebae? Does the king moonlight as Horton Hears A Who! Mayor of Whoville?) Admittedly, it may seem, at least at first if you’ll pardon the mangled pun, a bit cheezy:

Next, we turned to the second annual Shanghai Chocolate Dream Park
scheduled to run from 18 Jan through 24 Feb., and showcasing what a massive state can proffer when marshalling effort on behalf of choco-tourism and featuring chocolate sculpture and samples from folks around the world, as well as the finals of the International Chocolate Talent contest.

Ambitiously, chocolate is also being used to sell winter trips to Wales, Abu Dhabi, and in fact everywhere from (at least) Brussels to Belize (and as long as we’re thinking “B”‘s there’s Nicole Basaraba’s in-depth tourist hints for Belgium chocolate enjoyment). Quirkiest of all, there’s even the possibility for Valentine’s Day travel plans and an opportunity to escape the winter blahs in “southern” Ocean County, N.J. between 9-18 Feb. for their “chocolate week.”

If none of this appeals, we encourage you to vacate your current space and drop in for some hot chocolate — based on recent research we are trying to scrounge up some orange cups to make it taste even better, and until then are providing blindfolds or tinted glasses to help you go — and a slice of some chocolate something-else, as well as the warmth of friends.