I’d never entered a contest before, unless you count the lottery where all I’m judged on is my ability to select random numbers (a skill, by the way, I appear to be miserable at), but when I heard that my favorite chocolate boutique, Chocolopolis, was having its first Serious Chocolate Contest, I thought I’d try something daring and throw my bonbons into the hat to see what happened.
Nothing happened. My Rhubarb-Pomegranate Dark Chocolate molded truffle with salted macadamia nuts received a near perfect score on technique and appearance, but tanked on the “flavor profile” for failing to roast my nuts and chop them more finely (or leave out altogether) and I needed to enhance the fruit notes of the ganache.
Which is all to say, next time save the nuts for a plain chocolate ganache, and increase the pomegranate molasses because rhubarb gets lost in dark chocolate and is best accompanied by a high-cocoa-content milk chocolate. Or another way of putting it was the judges thought they looked real pretty but tasted like gravel and mud.
Indeed, this entire chocolate making and writing obsession is turning out to be a grand cosmic joke as my apartment increasingly looks like a chocolate hoarder resides somewhere amidst the boxes and bags of chocolate bars and couverture, aging Easter bunnies and assorted chocolates (milk and dark) that are piled high on top and underneath the desks, tables, counters, and shelves, shoved into cupboards and drawers and hidden from view in places we can barely reach just so we won’t be tempted to snatch up a truffle while walking by, while conveniently tucked into porcelain sugar bowls so there’s always a treat within reach.
It’s only a matter of time before Child Protective Services comes calling and puts my daughter in a foster home so that I don’t turn her into an obese diabetic and the Mental Health Police have me locked away as an obsessive compulsive chocolate maniac.
But it’s not entirely my fault; there are just some consequences to this chocolate blogging that I never quite anticipated. No one ever told me that if I started writing about chocolate, people would start sending me chocolate.
In the last week alone I have received a pound of assorted chocolates, a box of hand rolled truffles, countless chocolate bunnies and chocolate eggs, chocolate pralines, chocolate covered pretzels, half a dozen or so varieties of chocolate caramels, eight very expensive designer chocolate bars, chocolate covered marshmallows and chocolate covered potato chips.
There is a package of very elegant artisan caramels heading my way from an upscale chocolatier in San Francisco which should arrive any day (but they couldn’t be shipped by air or they would explode I was told, which makes me wonder if Homeland Security is aware of the threat chocolate caramels pose to our airlines). And just the other day I received an email from a health food enterprise asking if I wanted them to send me some probiotic chocolate (as compared to antibiotic chocolate?), and I had to politely decline.
Had I thought this whole free sample thing through, I’d be blogging about champagne and diamonds. Or, as Mira wisely pointed out while we debated our economic plight and pending housing crisis, I should be blogging about fine homes and real estate, and really make good use of the samples. Sure, happy to review your penthouse apartment, just send me the keys and the address. There’s a ranch in Idaho I’m testing out for the next year or two but I can always try out a weekend retreat in Manhattan and write you a nice review (assuming it meets my standards). A pueblo in Santa Fe you say? Sounds very nice, but does it come with a view? I’m having to scale back on my housing samples while I write my book on the best homes in the world, but I’d really love to include you if you can convince me your homes are good enough. Gotta fly, Architectural Digest is on the phone wanting to know my opinion . . .
“Why not write a blog about money?” Mira asked as we surveyed our sudden avalanche of chocolate. “We could sure use some samples of that,” as she surreptitiously filled a napkin full of chocolate covered potato chips thinking I wouldn’t notice.
“Good idea,” I answered, “but if I tried making our own I’d probably get arrested.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, “you’re not much of an artist.”
We looked around at all the chocolate, and the plates of botched but tasty guava milk chocolates I’d made (more on that perplexing dilemma later), the saffron fans (a household staple), and the one lone rhubarb pomegranate that remained from the chocolate contest. Big plastic tubs of ground chocolate leftover from tempering (unfit for retempering, they’d been scraped out of the Pyrex and tossed in the food processor to be reduced to chocolate dust), were taking over a whole corner of the kitchen counter and labeled, like old boyfriends, with “Spicy,” “Best Bittersweet,” and “Out of Temper.”
Oh, the ganache that awaited us in these plastic bins, the chocolate mousses and cakes and hot drinks so rich they’d taste like truffle flavored lava. Bulky five pound bags of couverture were stacked on the table waiting to be put back into the closet until the next chocolate frenzy, bowls and pastry bags of unused ganache were scattered all over the kitchen just waiting to pipe themselves into the next batch of shells, and a plate of broken or bent truffles lay just inches away, waiting to leap into my mouth where they’d be safe from the cruelty of insults regarding their appearance.
I looked over to Mira, her face smeared in chocolate and potato chip crumbs that she tried to make disappear like she was just wiping away some spittle.
“I think we need to get this chocolate thing under control,” I suggested, in a tone to imply it was all her fault we got into this chocolate covered mess in the first place. That’s one of the advantages of being a parent; we can blame it all on the kids and if they object we can drug them with psychotropics until they conform to our way of thinking.
“Yeah, mom, you really have gotten out of control,” she said, staring at my waistline while she reached for a few of the developmentally disabled saffron fans and discretely tucked them into her mouth for safe keeping.
“I think we’ve both gotten a bit out of control,” I said, “and it’s time to take back our kitchen and home before all this chocolate suffocates us in our sleep.” Visions of a chocolate tsunami bursting through the walls sent a shiver of reality up my spine. There’s only so much chocolate one should have inside the home before it’s time to summon the Cocoa Busters to eradicate the devilish tormentor once and for all.
But what about my mission? My mission to democratize chocolate making and make it accessible to the masses? What about the chocolates the chocolate makers wanted me to taste and write about on this or that internet broadcast for the Whole Wide World to see? And what about my chocolate covered blog, would I have to start making up stories about my goofy fiascos, pretend I spent the day learning to use transfer sheets and perfect butter cream ganache when really I’d just been grazing on salads and sipping filtered water?
Clearly, it just wouldn’t do to give it up altogether. I’d have to do something drastic. Something never before undertaken by me, but now was the time if ever there was one.
I’d have to employ moderation. The very thought of it made me tremble. Make just one batch a week – to share with others – accept just one sample a week – to sample and share. Make and eat darker chocolates, with far less sugar. Make ganaches of melted chocolate with unsweetened fruit butters, instead of all that wonderful whole whipping cream and extra sweet cream butter. Exercise, perhaps even a fifteen minute walk before every truffle. Could I pull it off?
I gave it some thought. Pulled out the calculator and calculated the weight gain since making the chocolates, divided by the eight months I’d been at it. Multiplied by 12, to calculate what I’d weigh in a year if I continued to leave pounds of chocolate scattered around the house like so many scented soy candles in a New Age commune. Multiplied that annual number by three, then by five, then by ten. By the time I was dead I’d have to be carried out of the house on a forklift and buried in a piano crate, a box of truffles laid atop my blubbery bosom so I’d have something to comfort me in the afterlife because I clearly wouldn’t fit into heaven.
I must have been mumbling out loud, because Mira arrived in her running gear, ready to hit the beach for a quick jog before dinner. “Mom, you’re not fat, you just need to get in shape!” she said in the perky voice of a personal coach who’d graduated from the Happy Health Academy. “Come on, let’s go!” She clapped her hands like she was in charge and I’d better get a move on.
I obediently joined her, walking as fast as I could to keep up with her bobbing pony tail as she jogged a mile and back again, making perky little chirping sounds all the way. “You can do it! That’s great, keep pace, we’re almost there!”
She was clearly switched at birth. This is not my child, I thought, as I wailed and whined all the way there and back and reminded her I was as old and bitter as a vintage dark from Venezuela.
By the time we got home, all I wanted was water. I started putting the chocolate away, plate by plate, box by box, tub by tub. When the last of the ganache had been wedged into the freezer, somewhere between the chicken stock cubes and homemade popsicles, I considered what I’d learned about making good chocolates.
It’s not just about what you put into them, I realized, it’s what they put into you. And so it is that now my chocolate making comes with Moderation and Exercise, those demonic angels who are so near impossible to master. Until we do. And then, like children, we embrace them. Or leave them on somebody else’s doorstep to deal with. Only one way to find out which it will be. Stay tuned . . .