Nicola here, with this month's Ask A Wench. It’s US National Choose your Chocolate Day (but that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t join in, right?) So here on the Wenches, we decided to chat about our relationship with chocolate. Is it a love story or a break up story? How long have we known chocolate for and how has our relationship with chocolate developed?
Christina: I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know what chocolate was – it’s my main vice, the one thing I don’t think I could give up! As a child, I remember eating something called ‘Guldnougat’, which was basically a chocolate bar that was a mixture of milk chocolate and hazelnut paste (this is usually called Gianduja in the UK). It was incredibly messy to eat as it tended to melt when clutched in a small warm hand, but I adored it. Swedish chocolate on the whole is delicious, especially anything made by the most famous brand Marabou. Personally, I prefer the types without anything added other than nuts, but they have just about every flavour under the sun.
I used to help my grandmother make homemade sweets for Christmas, which involved lots of cooking chocolate. This gave me a taste for the darker varieties as well and when I moved to the UK I discovered Cadbury’s Bourneville, which is now my absolute favourite. It is not at all bitter and just melts in your mouth. If I have to choose other chocolates, I’d go for Ferrero Rocher (the one made with milk chocolate and hazelnuts) or a Swiss bar called Ragusa, again with hazelnuts (hmm, I see a theme emerging here!). I would say my relationship with chocolate runs very smoothly indeed, apart from the fact that I can’t stop eating the stuff …
Anne here. My earliest memories of chocolate are not particularly happy ones. We didn't have much chocolate in the house when I was small, but whenever we visited my maternal grandmother, it was a given that we would definitely have some chocolate. But we didn't look forward to it! You see, Nana had some set-in-concrete ideas about what growing children needed, and one of those things was a regular dose of cod-liver oil. Shortly after we arrived for a visit, she would dose us with a large spoonful of vile-tasting cod-liver oil — there was no getting out of it. While we were still shuddering from the horrible fishy taste, she would then reward us with chocolate — one small square of Cadbury's milk chocolate. No more, no less.
Now, I love Cadbury's chocolate, but to this day I cannot taste their plain milk chocolate without getting an aftertaste of cod-liver oil. Happily, chocolate with nuts in it doesn't have the same effect, so for me almond chocolate, or hazelnut chocolate — milk or dark — is always delicious.
Many years ago I started making my own chocolates, using couverture chocolate, and making my own mixtures — a touch of orange or peppermint, home-made caramel, or some nuts (freshly roasted almonds was my favorite) — mainly to give as gifts. I especially enjoyed making them for Christmas gifts. I also used to make little cellophane-wrapped parcels of seasonally decorated chocolates to hang on the Christmas tree — white chocolate with Christmas designs picked out in colour. They were fiddly to make, but fun, and people loved getting them. I did it for years, but then the shop where I used to buy the couverture chocolate closed, and I stopped making them. Recently, when I was packing up to move house, I discovered a forgotten box of chocolate moulds at the back of the pantry. These days it's easy to order couverture chocolate on-line, so I might just get inspired again. Who knows? In the meantime, I often dip strawberries (or cherries) in chocolate to take as a small dinner-party gift.
Mary Jo here: I have a grave confession to make: even though it's almost mandatory for romance writers to be chocoholics, I am not one. Mind you, I like chocolate just fine, but if I'm at a nice restaurant and look at the listed desserts. I'll skip the chocolate lava cake and dive on the berry shortcake. (I once read that there are four basic types of dessert lovers. I think categories 1 and 2 are something like cakes and pudding, but category 3 was chocolate and 4 was fruit. I will stand my ground with my peach tart.)
If someone gives me a gift of chocolates, it's apt to sit in the refrigerator untouched for months, but there are chocolate things I've consumed with great joy. Like Christina, I prefer dark chocolate–milk chocolate is too sweet and rather undistinguished. A really great truffle is a thing of beauty and a joy for about five minutes. (I'll eat it slowly. <G>)
There is also the magnificent chocolate mousse-is cake that we shared in a coffee shop in the center of Tallin, Estonia. A lovely guide was showing us the historic district and we stopped at the shop and got coffee and a piece of the Fat Margaret Cake. Believe me, if Margaret ate that every day, she would definitely be hefty!
But if I were to pick my truly favorite chocolates, they would be from Kirschmayr a beloved European chocolate shop near me. Around Christmas, the lines can be out the door. (To be fair, it's quite a small shop, but still.) I love, love, LOVE their dark chocolate covered hazelnuts, which are AMAZING! (Christina, are you listening? <G>)
The moral of the story is that one doesn't have to be a chocoholic to appreciate good chocolate! The image below is of the centerpiece of a Viking Sky evening chocolate extravaganza. Note the nautical theme. <G> I couldn't resist taking a picture but did not eat any of the chocolate.
Nicola: The only childhood memories of chocolate that I have relate to a huge Easter egg I received one year. It was in a green box, wrapped in green foil and full of individual chocolates of all sorts. I was completely overwhelmed by the magnificence of it and I suspect my mother rationed out the pieces to me very carefully because I do remember that by the time it was finished the chocolate had developed that a whitish “sugar bloom” that I thought came from old age!
A few years ago I went through a white chocolate phase, especially Marks & Spencer Mountain Bars and white Toblerone. Chocolate purists will tell you that white chocolate isn’t real chocolate because it doesn’t contain any cocoa particles. It’s made of cocoa butter mixed with sugar and vanilla. Which sounded pretty good to me! Whatever, I had to give it up for health reasons so now I restrict myself to a truffle on special occasions, which tastes all the better because I relish it even more than I used to do.
Andrea: My mother is Swiss, so I’m pretty sure that I have a chocolate gene . . . surely that would explain why chocolate in any form seems to be the perfect medicine for anything that ails me. As a child, I remember Swiss relatives bringing wonderful boxes of colorfully wrapped bite-sized chocolates when they came to visit. The wrappers were beautiful scenes of the mountains and lakes. They left a real impression for while I love brownies, cakes and pretty much any confection made with Cacao Theobroma, my first love is a Swiss chocolate bar. Lindt are excellent, but my absolute favorite is Frigor by Cailler, which has a hazelnut/almond filling that is to die for. (Alas, it’s hard to find outside of Switzerland.) P.S. My editorial assistants know that whenever I’m struggling with the WIP, feeding me a bit of chocolate will always inspire the inner Muse to get to work.
My relationship with chocolate is long, meaningful, and probably forever, though chocolate and I haven't always gotten along. We've had our ups and downs as in any good and growing relationship. As a kid, I didn't love chocolate, especially the dark sort–that was for grown-ups, I thought, and it did not appeal. When I grew up, I soon discovered why people love chocolate, why it holds a place in their hearts, in their cupboards, and in modern culture. This wonderful little comfort food, transformed in countless ways, can gently boost a sense of happiness and well-being. My brain figured it out before I did–theobromine, serotonin, dopamine, a little bit of caffeine, other stuff–all good. My brain said yeah, we need more of this excellent therapy. Especially the dark stuff. And so I came to love, love, love chocolate, the darker the better. I began to educate myself and explore the vast range of really, really good chocolate available, along with a continuing appreciation for what in our house we call "cheap choc," universally loved by most everyone. Any choc is good choc.
And chocolate educated me, giving me a fun angle for a book. My novel, Keeping Kate, set in 18th c. Jacobite Scotland, features a Scottish hero with a family-run chocolate business in Edinburgh. Lovely fun to research–though I would not love Aztec chocolate! Bitter stuff straight from the cacao bean, no sweet, no dairy, and plenty of hot peppers, chugged down as a thick, burning ceremonial liquid often followed by sacrifice or some other unpleasant experience. No thank you.
There's always a good supply of fabulous choc and cheap choc in our pantry. Usually, I'll have just a small piece, two at the most, and be happy with that (in contrast to the Guys in my family, who can eat the stuff by huge handfuls) — and I sometimes refer to chocolate as my only medication. So far, knock wood, it is!
Now it's over to you! What sort of relationship do you have with chocolate? Any ups and downs or has the course of chocolate run smoothly for you? On choose your chocolate day, please tell us your favourites!