Yesterday, my manly-man Marine husband turned to me in the kitchen and said, with what can only be described as childlike glee, “It’s almost time for Christmas movies!” While he proceeded to start quoting Christmas Vacation to our clueless four-month-old son, I started thinking about Rudolph, Frosty, and Chocolat.
If you haven’t seen it, Chocolat is a fantastic movie about a young mother and her daughter who open a chocolate shop in small French town and shake up the status quo. It’s a precious watch and very belly-warming (which is like what Eat, Pray, Love should have been, because the “Eat” part of the book was really my favorite). After all, Chocolat has a great many things going for it. France! A cute child! A love story! French accents! Chocolates!
Note: If, like I, you think Chocolat is a slightly bizarre holiday movie selection, know you are not alone. Time Warner Cable sometimes has a lot of explaining to do. But when it comes to chocolate, should we ever look a gift horse in the mouth? I say no.
But I was not always a chocolate person. In those dark days before I’d come to my senses, smelled the chocolate, and seen the light, I remember wondering what all the fuss was about. Strawberries are delicious without chocolate. I can do without a Kit Kat. Why have a brownie when you can have a pie?
And then I discovered Vosges.
Vosges is a high to-do chocolatier based in Chicago (Edit: I was originally told by a saleswoman at a New York store that it was a New York company. Clearly, she felt that New York could only be bestowed the title of Best City Ever if Vosges called it home. Sadly for New York at least, she was mistaken. Ladies and Gentlemen, that award – today at least – goes straight to Chicago!) that specializes in what they call “haut chocolate.” It’s fancy schmancy, there’s no way around it, but it’s also not exactly chocolate. It’s an experience.
I got my first bar of Vosges chocolate at Garden of Eden, my former neighborhood grocer. The label was exotic: succulent red, rich brown, empty white. It pictured a cinnamon stick, a crushed pepper, and a square of chocolate that, to this uninitiated cocophile, looked like everything chocolate was supposed to be. And it was called the Red Fire Bar. Now, we all know I’m the kind of person who waxes poetic about food, but this was chocolate. And there was no reason for me to wax poetic about it, especially when I was standing there holding a fresh baguette and some good camembert. I could take or leave the chocolate.
But that label jumped out at me, and it was enough to have me imagining Rudyard Kipling nibbling on this chocolate. I could almost hear him saying Din! Din! Din! through the wrapper.
I obviously had to buy it.
The very next day, I went back for two more. The day after after that, more still. There were blood orange caramel chocolates, bacon and chocolate bars, chocolates with toffee and caramel and pink Himalayan sea salt. Soon, I had become a chocolate person and I hadn’t even realized it. I started amassing delicious-sounding chocolate bars to share with my friends and family and any students that wandered into my office (I worked at Columbia at the time).
I had chocolates to taste in small portion and chocolates to savor at dessert. I had truffles to bring to friends and bars to included in care packages and then, one day, eating the inordinately delicious dark chocolate covered sea salt caramels you can get in the bakery section of Whole Foods, I had an epiphany: If I am going to be one of those people who loves chocolate and consumes it like it’s her life’s purpose, well, then I ought to at least try to make it.
And that’s when I discovered that the only thing more fun than eating delicious chocolate is inventing and making it.
My first batch of truffles (pineapple, oolong, chocolate with some coconut on top) were nothing to write home about (no one could taste the oolong and the pineapple became gummy), but much like my love of chocolate itself, taste by taste, they’ve gotten addictive.
Chocolate truffles are great this time of year because little is more festive as a hostess present than a small box of homemade truffles. These bourbon truffles from Southern Living are really fantastic (and not too bourbony), and I also really like these pistachio and cardamom truffles, which are just the right amount of fancy (doesn’t that sound fancy?) and the right amount of “Hey! That was easy! Let’s do it again!” These earl grey and vanilla bean truffles are perfect for your tea-loving friend, and who doesn’t want some chocolate pomegranate truffles?
Make some chocolates for your next dinner party. Take them to coffee hour at church on Sunday. Spice up the annual Cookie Exchange with a little truffle curfuffle. But whatever you do, give them a shot. The world is a better place with chocolate in it, and we’re supposed to be the good we want to see in this world, right? Clearly, that makes it our job to make more chocolate. Delicious, fantastic chocolate.
Tell me: Do you like chocolate too? What’s your favorite thing to do with it? (Recipe sharing welcome!)
P.S. — Here’s a helpful (and beautiful!) Guide to Tasting Fine Chocolate if you need any more encouragement.