May 24, 2012There are things in the world more important than chocolate.
But most of those things are a lot harder to get. So when the chocolate is good and pretty easy to get, I say go for it.
The problem is that not all chocolate is equally good. There are chocolates that are good in the delicious sense, that aren't good for you in the healthy sense, because they fall well into the weight-gain, bad-for-teeth territory.
Basically that means all milk chocolate and all chocolates wrapped around caramel.
Then there are the good-for-you chocolates in the healthy sense – dark chocolate with its anti-oxidants and other magical ingredients, without so much sugar, so your teeth stay pretty and, like, there.
The trouble is that the really dark chocolates tend to be bitter and only self-punishing women like them. Absolute fact: Women are far more likely to like dark chocolate than men. (True in both senses of the sentence, according to authoritative sources.)
So I'm happy to tell you about a chocolate that's dark enough to be good for you and tasty enough for men to like it. Though women will still like it better than men. (Clinically tested with a scientific sample of three different chocolate-loving women.)
I'm speaking of the 61% cacao semisweet chocolate from E. Guittard. When they sell it as chocolate bars, they call it "Tsaratana." (Their milk chocolate [38 percent cacao] is "Orinoco"; their bittersweet [72 percent] is "Quetzalcoatl"; and the suicidal extra-dark chocolate [91 percent] is "Nocturne.")
I've tried a lot of chocolate lately, in search of a really delicious dark chocolate, and I can tell you, there are other decent dark chocolates, but none that come close to beating the Guittard Tsaratana.
And while the bar is very good, the best way to eat it is in the form of "chocolate wafers for baking and eating."
This is a pretty big box that contains a plastic bag full of what looks like non-pareils without the little white sugar dots.
We open that plastic bag and pour the contents into an extra-large Ziploc sandwich bag. Then we seal it and keep it in the fridge.
When the impulse strikes us, we open the Ziploc bag and take only as many wafers as we want. We don't have to commit to a whole bar. (For me, putting away an unfinished chocolate bar makes as much sense as parking your car two blocks from home instead of pulling into your own garage.)
Because they're cold from the fridge, they don't melt in your hand. And the coldness sharpens the flavor. You can either hold it in your mouth and savor it as it gets melty, or you can chew it up and get just a little bit of fridgy crunch.
This is hedonism at its finest.
Where do you get Guittard chocolates, since there is only a remote chance you'll find it at your ordinary grocery store? If you don't live in Greensboro, you can go online: http://guittard-online.stores.yahoo.net/bars.html
The trouble is that we're heading into summer, and that's really not the best time to have chocolate shipped to you, since it's likelier to arrive in melted condition.
Fortunately for those who live in Greensboro, Loco for Coco carries a fine selection of Guittard products – including those big boxes of wafers. It's one of the rewards of shopping at local stores.
It has long been a frivolous family doctrine that chocolate will only be available in hell. This will motivate the people in heaven to come and visit the rest of us, so we'll have company now and then.
I'm telling you now, when I get to Hades I'm going to lay in a supply of Guittard 61% cacao semisweet chocolate wafers for baking or eating, and keep it in the devil's own fridge (no way he'll refuse), so people will come to see me.
Not that I'm promising anything. If I were the kind of person who shared his chocolate with others, I probably wouldn't be in hell.
Guittard isn't the only chocolate I tried in my extensive, selfless research project. If I had to make a second choice of dark chocolate right this moment, I'd probably go for the Whole Foods 72% dark chocolate bar.
And if you just give up on dark chocolate and are looking for a healthy-seeming milk chocolate, why not try Seeds of Change Milk Chocolate with Crisp Whole Grains? Because it isn't all crisped rice, as in most crunch bars, there's an unusual mix of flavors, but I liked it a lot.
While I was visiting the Whole Foods chocolate department, I also tried Sinless Raw Food vegan sugar free chocolate. This is what can only be called "ideological food." It's supposed to have all the good stuff from dark chocolate, without any of the bad stuff.
The flavor is strange but good. However, it has a different mouth-feel that might not bother most people, but it makes it unlikely I'll go back for more. I'm sure this is yet one more reason why I'll be passing out Guittard wafers in hell.
And to carry the whole chocolate theme to its logical conclusion, the best frozen fudge bar in town is at Whole Foods: Whole Treat Organic frozen fudge bars.
This is a Whole Foods Market brand (like 365 and 365 Organic). We still like Julie's Organic, our previous favorite, but "brand loyalty" isn't like marriage – for better or for worse. When I find something clearly better, I switch brands.
(I don't know what I'd do about marriage if I found someone better. After 35 years with my wife, I haven't found anyone better, and by now I'm pretty sure I never will. So the choice just isn't going to come up.)
I loathe vampire stories. I have never been enthusiastic about Tim Burton movies. And when Johnny Depp performs in whiteface, the result is usually faintly repulsive, even though he is always a good actor.
So why in the world did I go see Dark Shadows?
I have no memories of the soap opera from the 1960s. I never watched even a single moment of it.
But the promos for the Dark Shadows movie were funny and it didn't look seriously scary. It also didn't look as though it was going to glamorize vampires, a trend which has made me faintly sick since Anne Rice began it.
And then there was the fact that my wife did rush home from school to catch the last few minutes of Dark Shadows on television. So she had memories of the original series. Did I mention those 35 years of marriage? Well, we reached that milestone this week, and our anniversary date was watching Dark Shadows.
The premise is every bit as unbelievable as the premise of The Avengers, and Dark Shadows has the same everybody-has-a-weird-power problem. So why did I like Dark Shadows much more than I liked The Avengers?
I'm not saying you'll feel the same way – I know my responses are odd! Dark Shadows has nothing like the thrill ride of The Avengers. But to me, it was more interesting, more likeable, from the first moment on.
Some terrible things happen in the movie. But at least the motives are clear. Lust and jealousy – very normal human motives. And it isn't the whole planet at stake – just the fortunes (and the very survival) of one family.
For me, that makes it so I care much more.
It's not that planets can't blow up. After all, it seems now that the Moon was built and put in place when a big old planet crashed into Earth a few million centuries ago.
And there have been enough big species-killing asteroid strikes in human history, not to mention climate-change extinctions (the real, cyclical climate change that actually happens, rather than the fantasy human-caused "global warming" which is really just good weather), for me to believe in planet-destruction as a genuine thing.
Whereas having a witch turn you into a vampire and then put you in a box for two centuries because you fall in love with somebody else – I don't think that's really likely.
However, planet-wrecking events are relatively rare – I can't remember the last one, personally – while family-threatening events are tragically common, and this "witch-is-out-to-get-us" scenario is just an exaggeration of stuff that I've seen tear families apart in real life.
You know, where the husband or wife runs into somebody else who tickles their "true love" itch (which usually goes away in about six months, if you just don't scratch it) and families are torn apart, leaving children devastated and trust shattered.
I think that's why I liked Dark Shadows so much. Because behind the wonderful special effects, and Johnny Depp's genuine and hilarious apologies to the people he's about to slaughter and drain of blood, and the terrific acting, there's something deeply true about the story of Dark Shadows.
At the ripe old age of 60, I care about that kind of truth way more than I care about thrill-ride movies. I'm not criticizing you if you prefer the thrill ride. I don't go on roller coasters or other nausea-and-terror-inducing "entertainments," either. I'm a wimp. I walk out of actual scary movies.
So no, Dark Shadows isn't really scary. If you're 9 years old then yes, it's terrifying. But even then it's probably not so much because of witches and vampires – the scariest thing about the witch (the wonderful Eva Green) is the very real possibility of getting trapped in her prominently displayed cleavage and never getting out.
No, what is really terrifying is that in this story, children lose their parents – to murderers who are never caught. A child who sees ghosts gets sent away to an insane asylum. A man stands helplessly at the top of a cliff watching the love of his life die. Father-figures abandon the children who depend on them. Even the most devoted mothers can't protect their children from monsters.
This is really disturbing stuff. Especially because it all happens in the real world, too. So I'd be very careful about bringing pre-teens to this movie.
But I think many adults will love this movie.
I don't expect ever to watch The Avengers again. Why would I?
But when Dark Shadows comes on television, I expect to get sucked into watching it more than once, the way I have been with movies like He's Just Not That Into You and Twister and Knight and Day, where good writing and good acting make some movies irresistible to me, while other movies, with much better reputations, I flip away from and conclude "there's nothing on."