Every shopping trip, I roll into the candy aisle and toss a couple of bars of dark chocolate into the cart.
“Antioxidants,” I tell myself, and yes, that’s how we regard the chocolate when we get it home. One square a day is all we get and what I hold myself to, even when the farmer double dips, which will tend to happen unless I hide the chocolate.
Except for that one square, the chocolate is safe from me – in a way that Skittles or Starburst candy would not be. I did not get the chocaholic gene that other women get, a quirk that lands me on this Valentine’s Day as a bit of an outlier.
Get me flowers and a card, or watermelon, my favorite food, and a card, or just a card, but skip the heart-shaped box of chocolates. I will grow bored with it before I’ve eaten all the firm, square, caramel ones.
And those are the only ones that interest me.
Is there any food discovery more disappointing than pulling a chocolate out of its little paper panties, biting into it thinking caramel and discovering, too late, that it is a vanilla cream shaped to trick you into thinking it’s a caramel? The vanilla creams are way too sweet; the chocolate-covered cherries are too runny; and don’t get me started on the ones that are jammed with raisins. Ditto walnuts. The worst are the ones filled with what appears to be hardened jello.
Some of my best friends would challenge me on this, arguing that anything enrobed in chocolate is not only delicious, but possessing of psychotropic powers.
My friend Annie has stashes of chocolate hidden all over the house, her sweet little life rafts ready to rescue her when she sinks. She’s one of the happiest people I know. I might take her lead and start hiding watermelons around the house – my own version of an SSRI – but we haven’t got the storage space. Besides, why hide a watermelon? It’s fruit.
My ambivalence about chocolate may date back to my adolescence, when every issue of Teen magazine, as well as our home economics teacher, warned that chocolate would make a 7th grader’s face break out. This theory has been debunked since then, but maybe there was some truth to it after all. I avoided chocolate and sailed through puberty with pretty good skin. Ok, I didn’t sail through, but at least the skin wasn’t a problem.
Now they tell us a bit of chocolate is good for the heart – the darker the better. Once, feeling skeptical about the health benefits of the big bars of Hershey dark chocolate I’d been buying, I went to a health food store and bought the serious stuff – a Belgian chocolate that boasted 72% cacao, the ingredient that elevates the chocolate above, say, a movie theater box of Goobers.
I’m not sure what that was in the health store wrapper, but I wouldn’t call it chocolate.
No amount of hot coffee would smooth out the bitter and chalky edges. They sell the same thing at the grocery store for less money; it’s called baking chocolate. After one bite, I tossed the rest of my daily square in the trash, wrapped what was left of the bar in its paper and put it back in the cabinet.
This time I didn’t bother to hide the chocolate. I left it right there next to the peanut butter, where the farmer would see it. Weeks later, it’s still there. If antioxidants were mostly what I was after, I should have bought some kale - and for today’s occasion, wrapped it in a heart-shaped box.