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Friday, June 10, 2016

Books & Chocolate: Part 2

This is Part 2 (click here to read Part 1) of a piece that I wrote for my Food Writing class in college. I brought together two of my interests, books and chocolate of course, in pairings that explained the different types of things I enjoy out of each--distinct from statements of "better" or "worse." I've decided to post it in portions; here are the third and fourth pairings. 

It was desire for that which is not familiar that led me to the gold-bedecked Godiva store at Scottsdale Fashion Square. As I began considering chocolate as an entire field, I thought that high prices and gold packaging meant quality. Godiva was sitting right next to a jewelry store, after all, and the treatment of its products was not so different from that of the jewelry. Polish and poise decorated the gold boxes of chocolate, and the individual truffles sat like jewels underneath the glass by the register. I could spend several minutes savoring just one truffle. But I savored it because I knew it had a two or three dollar price tag and because, honestly, I had not tasted many other truffles at all. By the time I had tasted several other high-end brands, Godiva began to fail me. Their dark chocolate struck me as more sweet than dark, and the still-beautiful truffles and chocolates looked too perfect in their molds, mass-produced instead of artisan. Tasty to eat, but not worth the high prices. A chocolate can be beautiful to look at and yet not as beautiful to taste.

Disappointments like this hurt. At the same time that I exalted over Godiva, I was also reading historical novels from Liz Curtis Higgs. It was by randomness that I read the first one, Thorn in My Heart, but suspense, a good amount of historical setting, and a love story brought me quickly through the series that book started. I praised Liz's name above similar authors: she wrote very well, I said. Perhaps she does write well enough. I think she does: she manages to blend the historical facts into the story in a way that isn't showing off, and satisfies readers' desires for highly emotional stories. But with time, I grew a little bored. While she only had two historical novels when I began reading her, now there are six. I begin to sense the pattern of them, like Godiva's manufactured side. Suspense only means so much when you know it's coming. Probably I will read what Liz next publishes, just as I still wander into Godiva, but these experiences have become more transient than special.

Development is what keeps my attention from fading. My first bar by E. Guittard was their 91% Nocturne. I in fact approached it much like I did Godiva, not knowing very much about cacao percentages but, having never seen one so high as this, deciding that it must belong to an amazing chocolate. Fortunately, my naive assessment in this case turned out to be correct. I took the bar home and examined it: if it did prove to be special, I couldn't rush the experience. Unlike Godiva's heavy gold coloring, this bar was wrapped in black with a faded image of a cacao plantation in the background. Only the border had a gold sheen to it. The grown-up elegance suddenly intimidated me, and I feared that I had indeed acted naively by thinking this chocolate would be the most delicious I had ever tasted. I feared it would be more than I could handle, bitter and unwieldy. The first piece I placed in my mouth did hit with a red, as of fruit or earth, and bitter taste, but that quickly dissipated into a divine smoothness, letting me experience for the first time what it was like for a chocolate to envelope your mouth and your entire mind. Every second brought the flavor to a new intensity; the chocolate was thick and rich and melted so smoothly and slowly, leaving a pleasant warmth in my mouth. I only needed the one piece, saving the rest for later. I was converted.

Not everything critics acclaim is necessarily difficult to approach. Many companies, like Cerreta Candy in Glendale, use Guittard chocolate either in baking or chocolate making. And while one or two novels by Wilkie Collins come under literary study, these can have appeal to modern audiences simply as fun mystery stories. It was from seeing clips from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical based, loosely, on The Woman in White that I read the original Collins novel one summer. Its six hundred pages looked a bit much for a summer read, but I began it, anyway, since I knew I would probably never see the musical. Like any proper mystery, excitement of the moment made me forget the number of pages, and even long after I had finished the book, I thought about how kind a person Walter Hartwright was and about what social schemes the novel may have been exposing. Like the Nocturne bar, The Woman in White and, later, The Moonstone united pleasure and criticism into the same sphere. 

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