18 Nov 2009

Choc-a-Block! (Part 1)

I have a confession to make. There is a love in my life that has burnt a fire in my heart for as long as I can remember. This love is nothing to do with a quick burn-out affair, a fleeting passion that comes and goes with the seasons, or a reasoned affection. This love is more like a single-sided devotion on my part that will forever stay with me, leaving me appeased soon enough until satisfied again...

This is not Lord Byron enthusing about a lover, only humble I waxing lyrical over one of life’s little luxuries: chocolate, in rather hedonistic terms - I must concede (where’s my head at!) - but the word is as potent as it tastes, stirring emotions in me and bringing pleasure to my tastebuds and respite to my sanity!

Chocolate is synonym with food comforts, and one of those treats described as péché mignon (the cute sin) in French, the bon vivant’s allegorical excuse for indulgence bordering on the deadly sin of greed!

Clockwise from top left:  Thorntons, Van Houten, After Eight, Hotel Chocolat

According to ancient Aztec/ Mayan beliefs, chocolate used to be the drink of the Gods, certainly of society’s privileged few, bestowing powers. Chocolate was also used as a trading currency. The moment Conquistadores got acquainted to this treasured commodity was pivotal in defining and refining a new chapter in Western civilisations’ gastronomy.

A complex chemical reaction happens in the brain when the latter is stimulated by chocolate consumption. Chocolate compounds encourage the increase in serotonin and dopamine levels, therefore triggering the well-publicised mood-boosting effect one experiences on consumption. Chocolate as a mind-altering drug – I hear you gush – is the truth in principle, with the added advantage that the effects are mild, safe and legal!

However chocolate is also addictive, and I am probably a good example of this dependence. Although Choc and I go back a long time (early childhood), for the last 10 years, I have probably had it one way or another as part of my daily diet and, as such, we could safely deduct that this is one of my staple kitchen ingredients, although the bar form tends to be found in close proximity to the sofa – for a very brief period only – before disappearing! (to be continued)

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