As a Protestant kid in a Catholic grade school, I encountered a lot of stuff I didn’t understand. I was especially confused by Lent, the 40 days preceding Easter. During that time, tradition prescribes that you give up something you like or would be hard-pressed to live without. But thinking it was kind of silly, I usually ignored the tradition or chose something irrelevant like cinnamon chewing gum.
I’d mostly forgotten about Lenten sacrifices until a fated day in high school when some former parochial school pals were reminiscing about all of the seemingly random customs we’d encountered. I can’t remember why our conversation inspired me to reconsider, but suddenly, participating in Lent as an agnostic teenager seemed like a fun little experiment.
This time, I’d even take it seriously. I genuinely wondered, could I go for 40 days without eating chocolate?
I considered (hah, past tense) chocolate to be a major food group. I’d long subsisted on lunches of chocolate-covered pretzels and pans of brownies after school. Probably half of everything I ate back then was chocolate. Giving it up would be no easy task.
On that fated Fat Tuesday, I ate a box of chocolate truffles for lunch because I was 15 and could get away with it. Everyone joked that I wouldn’t last a week.
Then I didn’t eat chocolate again for nearly eight years.
I clearly had no idea it would go on so long. At first it seemed harmless and amusing self-control ritual more than anything else. Could I adapt to mealtimes sans chocolate? How long could I keep it up?
The answer was obviously yes. For one, I just ate other crap instead. I loaded up on sugar cookies and sheet cake. I ate animal crackers for lunch because they were cheap and filling. (Lest you think I was just grossly unhealthy, I was living on the cheap as I aggressively socked away money for out-of-state tuition. I was a woman with an ultimately successful plan.)
Once the 40 days had passed, I figured I’d done it for so long already that I might as well keep it up. And so I did, and a month became a year, and a year closed in on a decade.
The other part of this story is that in my late teens, I got really weird about food. I started writing down everything I ate, ostensibly just to keep track of my portions and calories. Once I got older and was able to identify one of my teenage relationships as abusive, I realized that my disordered eating had a lot more to do with control issues than just some unconventional habit.
I suppose it’s just as well chocolate was off the agenda at that time. I can’t imagine how obsessively I would have read nutritional labels and felt deprived of my favorite rich fudge-y desserts.
In college, I got some help and started to love food again, but the chocolate abstinence stuck. I baked and gleefully ate carob cookies and claimed they were the same. They were good, but everyone knows that nothing beats real chocolate. Mostly, my once-quirky (and later unhealthy) habit had become sort of stupid and annoying.
Finally, in my early 20s, I gave it up. I was traveling in Europe with my best friend when figured it was as good a time as any to re-enter the chocolate lovers' fold. In retrospect, I should have picked something more memorable. Whatever giant flavored chocolate bar I ate was rather forgettable. (I looked it up, it was a Butler’s Irish Chocolate coffee truffle. Meh.)
But after that, the taste was back. And since then, I haven’t been able to get enough, emphasis on dark chocolates (vegan-friendly!) with nutty undertones.
Not only did I start eating chocolate again but now I use language about cocoa beans that is usually reserved for sommeliers.
My current favorites -- and no one is paying me in cash money or food stuffs to say this -- are TCHO, Nói Síríus, Valrhona (Guanaja), Ethel M and Niederegger. All come from pretty specific places, and some aren’t easy to find. That doesn’t stop me on my quest to eat the best chocolate always.
Anthon Berg makes my very favorite marzipan chocolates, but I can actually find Niederegger in select German import sections (the only reason to go to Cost Plus World Market?), whereas Anthon Berg is really only sold in Denmark. Accordingly, my Danish honey and I stock up whenever we’re back in Copenhagen.
I’m also not a hater. I’ll eat Toblerone or Ritter Sport. I really like the texture of Dove bars if I need a drug store fix. Trader Joe’s sells incredible dark chocolate peanut butter cups, which are mostly impressive because I didn’t used to care about peanut butter and chocolate as, you know, a thing. Now, thanks to TJ’s, I can’t be stopped.
After bonding over European-style dark milk-free hot chocolate at Christopher Elbow, a new friend offered to take several me and several other people on a citywide chocolate tour last month. I’m a bit horrified when I consider that my previously bizarre, stubborn idiosyncrasy might have kept me from that tour rather than a previous commitment.
Don’t worry. We’re gonna reschedule.
Let’s talk about chocolate -- all chocolate -- because I can’t get enough.