Monday, December 12, 2005

70% Cocoa, 100% Gone

I am a vegetarian who doesn't smoke or drink alcohol. I almost never drink soft drinks or eat candy or potato chips. I rarely eat anything deep fried, and I never eat fast food. I've kicked most of my superficial or culinary sins, which means that all I have left is the big stuff, you know, like selfishness, covetousness, arrogance, false humility and crippling pride.

I do, however, have one last guilty pleasure, which I rarely enjoy but will never give up: chocolate.

When I say chocolate I don't mean Hershey bars or Reese cups. I don't mean Swiss Miss or Nestle. I mean the good stuff. Rich, dark, snobby chocolate. The kind that has more cocoa than sugar.

My wife doesn't join me in this indulgence. She reasons that you can get maybe a thousand Jolly Ranchers or Starburst for what I spend on a single bar of chocolate, and they give you a much better sugar buzz. But its not sugar I go for. She can keep her sweets; I want my rich, dark, semi-bitter chocolate.

Because my tastes in chocolate are a bit pricy, and because I keep a rather strict diet, I only indulge in my cocoa-laced fantasy a couple of times a year. Last night was one of those nights.

Times have been kind of rough lately. Since I left professional ministry we've had to pinch pennies a little tighter than usual, and I'm starting to feel like a familial parasite. I still call myself a freelance writer, but publishers and magazines aren't exactly knocking themselves over for my work. If I don't start drawing some income from writing soon I'm going to have to get the kind of job I swore I'd never work again, punching into someone else's time clock selling products I'll never believe in. That's soul-sucking work any way you cut it, and I was glad to be rid of it when I entered the ministry.

But ministerial work sucks your soul as well. You spend all day every day tending to the spiritual needs of others never noticing that you have needs yourself. By the end of my ministerial career, I am ashamed to say, I never read the Bible except to prepare a lesson or a sermon, and I never prayed except as part of my pastoral duties.

Reaping no spiritual benefit for my work, and taking a great deal of abuse for my theology, I knew I couldn't sustain that career. So I quit, and now my family has had to adjust to a life we never planned to live. Sure I've still got hopes, dreams, ambition and direction, but in the meantime we need money.

My wife has watched me plummet down the bottomless pit of negative self-talk and self abuse. Last night she decided to do something about it. Of course we don't really believe that you can solve your problems by indulging in the sorts of food you aren't usually allowed to eat, but desperate times call for desperate measures and little yet exquisite pleasures, so as a random act of kindness while shopping for a Secret Santa gift at work she picked me up a bar of the purest, darkest chocolate I have ever seen.

Last night, while I was vegetating in front of the West Wing, she handed me a bar of Lindt dark chocolate, which, the package claimed, was 70% cocoa. Most chocolate bars are three parts milk and sugar for every one part cocoa, or so it seems from tasting them. They ought not be allowed to call themselves chocolate. But this bar... 70%... I was, and am, at a loss for words.

When you really know someone you can select for them the "perfect" gift, and that was, for me at that moment, as close to perfection as any gift could come. Having grown up fighting with two hungry brothers for every scrap of food we could get, I usually snatch at and greedily devour any rare treat that I get. But to inhale this chocolate bar would be to chug a bottle of the best red at a wine tasting. I may have no manners, but I can fake them when the situation demands it.

I slowly unwrapped the pure, rich chocolate, and gently but firmly broke off two squares. I gave one to my wife, who politely took a nibble to confirm that the flavor is still wasted on her, and then handed it back to me. Holding two squares of culinary ecstasy, I slowly and deliberately ate them both, and then rewrapped the rest of the bar. Chocolate this good is meant to be savored, and I intend to savor this the rest of the Christmas season.

I gave the rewrapped bar to my wife and joked that with the way that I usually eat perhaps she ought to hide it from me. She took it into the kitchen, and I didn't think of it again until this morning when, overwhelmed with craving for my new addiction I sought out the bar in the kitchen. It isn't there. She really did hide it from me. My chocolate bliss has dematerialized. I tore the kitchen apart, sniffing for it as though I were a pig and it a truffle, but to no avail.

I don't know how to tie this story up. I don't know if there is a moral or a point, nor do I know if I can turn it into any kind of spiritual lesson. I just know that my beloved chocolate is, at least for the moment, gone, and I can't even be mad at the person who took it.


Chappy said...

While I realize that this is like comparing a cardboard box in an alley to a mansion on the hill, I had a similar run-in with a bag of Reese's peanut butter baking chips this weekend. On the other hand, I'm looking forward to whatever cocoa-laden goodies my cousin brings home from Seattle next week. Last year, it was 70% cocoa truffles.


Sandalstraps said...

I'll take the truffles!

Brian Cubbage said...

An explanation and a suggestion.

The explanation: Chocolate stimulates endorphin production in the brain (or so I read once; any biochemists or neuroscientists in the audience?) in a way that sugar does not. Sugar creates a buzz; chocolate stimulates the happy centers of the brain.

The suggestion: You worry that you might have to get a job selling products in which you don't believe. You obviously believe in chocolate. Why not get a job selling chocolate? (Like at the Godiva store in the mall? I'm not a chocolate snob, but I like their chocolate pretty well.)

Squirrelly said...

Chris, you should hurry up and open the rest of the bar. I bet you'll find a Golden Ticket. ;)

A friend of mine at work has gotten me into the habit of liking the really rich, high cocoa chocolate, too. So I feel your pain. Next time you're near Cincinnati, go to their Trader Joe's. They sell the good stuff by the pound, and cheaply.

Sandalstraps said...

I finished the bar yesterday, and alas, no golden ticket. The golden ticket would have suppressed the chocolate content.

I'll have to check out Trader Joe's.

If ever I can find a job selling chocolate (or books, for that matter) I'll jump at it.

Brian Cubbage said...

Selling books is a lot of fun-- if selling chocolate is half that fun, it would be... really, really fun. Neither job pays particularly well, though.

Sandalstraps said...

Either would have to pay more than I'm making right now!

goddess_rl said...

I will brag (briefly) that I still posess a 73% cocao bar from West Africa via Belgium and then procured in Germany. In Europe all chocolate has percentages. And well....I could tell you about it, but I know it would just be painful. Needless to say I will bring you some when I go collect my husband from there next Christmas.

I still have some kinder eggs for those that it matters to, but one has to visit my door to get one. And one per visit. (The "fair" way to pass out goodies.)

goddess_rl said...
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