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

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.

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.

Chocolate News Ramble

chocolate head_phrenologyIt’s science and health morning at CAC.

Recent research from Ph.D. candidate Pase out of Swinburne is that dark chocolate creates a sense of calm and contentedness. Obviously, we like where the research is going, but hope he will expand to some insights and empirical good news beyond the obvious that thirty straight days of drinking excellent cocoa makes those who do feel better than those who don’t.

A step back from such a Dr. Obvious statement are results proffered by health/nutrition/cacao(?) expert Doctor Janeth Aidee Perea, Director of the Center of Research in Food Science and Technology of the Industrial University of Santander (Colombia). Speaking at the Fifth Latin American and Caribbean Meeting on Cocoa and Chocolate, now wrapping up in Havana, Perea sends out to the world the pronouncement on the health benefits of cacao ingestion that, the bitterer the betterer (it’s an antioxidant thing).

In addition to reading the report and realizing we missed out on what could have been a great trip to Havana to hang out with Perea and a few thousand of his nearest and dearest, there is also an envy-inducing article making the rounds by a journalist feasted, fattened and flattered for a few days at the Hotel Sacher [earlier: , that makes the point that chocolate outside the system — as in the hotel’s spa treatment au chocolate also promotes calm and contentedness.  (Maybe we could post a video at Kickstarter to study this?)

As for things we would enjoy seeing, we end the morning’s ramble with the headline grabbing announcement that a beautiful woman (model Petra Němcová in this case) announces she likes chocolate as a daystarter as a way to keep herself looking beautiful. Although, not to be too cynical about it could all just be a PR product placement as she does mention favorite line “>her favorite line. …not that being so jaundiced will keep us from being encouraged by the reality and fantasy that constantly delighting in dark chocolate can calm and content us, could get us an invite to Havana or may even provide an out-of-body Viennese experience as we return to work.

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!

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.

Chinese New Year with Changchun Chocolate Crunches (and Questions)

chinese chocolate soldiersChina’s Spring Festival (also known as its “new year”) combines something of the celebratory feel (in America-speak) of Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve Year and the Fourth of July.

What it doesn’t include is anything extraordinary and chocolatey. Despite the country’s incredible legacy of inventiveness — from silk, paper, kites, cards, gunpowder — the “best” chocolate recipe that can be concocted to celebrate this occasion is a riff on their invention of noodles with a transformation into Changchun Chocolate Crunches. The chew is named for the relatively young (only a couple hundred year old) city located amidst the natural beauty found in northeast China. It’s also a pretty easy recipe to make with kids in case you want to celebrate the Chinese New Year at home before picking up your cartons of takeout.

Changchun Chocolate Crunches

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup dark chocolate
1 1/2 cup crispy chow mein noodles
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup pistachios
1 tsp almond extract

Procedure
Microwave or double boil to melt chocolate. Slowly stir in remainder of ingredients. Remove from heat and spoon out small round mounds on waxed paper (about 15). Refrigerate for about two hours.

Notwithstanding the current World Chocolate Wonderland celebration [Earlier: Chocolate Around the World May Keep You at Home] it’s hard to believe the country is so laggardly in chocolate consumption and enjoyment. Maybe it’s a pride thing getting in the way of Chinese confectioners? Will it be a spur to their creativity that the country’s fashion designers are beginning to use the cacao bean as an inspiration for couture, most recently in a fashion show held as a feature of the WCW?

Or, in this year of the black water snake maybe the country will build from even the simplest of ideas until it creates an appropriate chocolate legacy. Quick hit ideas before it is too late, consider Peanut Butter, Banana, Chocolate Snake Cake; Icelandic Chocolate Snake Cake; even microwaved German-Chocolate Snake Cake; or, close to lowest of all, the Halloween-themed Chocolate Muffins with Gummy Snakes.

Really, we know they’re not much of a start, but all we are really doing is (yes, selfishly) looking to the future, when we’ll have something more sophisticated and authentic to offer than our not-yet-famous Changchun Chocolate Crunches.