I’m back. There’s a reason you haven’t heard from me lately, and it’s all because of chocolate. I don’t know what I was thinking when I named this blog The Chocolate Covered Kitchen. Starting a blog about making chocolate means having something to say about making chocolate which means making a habit of making chocolate, which, as I’ve mentioned in One Less Skinny Bitch, turns out to be a fattening habit, what with all those anti-oxidants attacking all my oxidants. I would have been much better off naming the blog The Dust Covered Apartment and then I could have written about things like decorating with gym equipment and how to make the most of a bad carpet day.
But instead, I’d foolishly declared to all the world that my mission was to democratize chocolate making, and after six months of tempering and nothing to show for it but a pile of plastic molds and spatulas and ten pounds of cocoa butter wrapped around my waist, my advice is master grilling and make extra firm tofu your guilty pleasure. Because after just three weeks away from the Chocolate Covered Kitchen and eight pounds lighter, I realized I had lost my passion and I sure wasn’t going to find it in the junk drawer or rotting at the back of the fridge. My passion had simply disappeared, like my Roseanne Cash CD, and all I was left with was the empty case it came in, and a sad longing for some music and confusion about where it could have gone.
Everywhere I turn I am told I need to find my passion. If I want to find a job, I need to find my professional passion, and it will come knocking on my door like a Jehovah’s Witness eager for me to sign up. If I want to get in shape, I need to find my sporting passion, and I’ll be pole dancing like a perky gymnast with immunity from the laws of gravity and a high tolerance for Spandex. If I want a date, I need to find my romantic passion – and then hold back on the passion until he’s so full of his own that I can dole it out in morsels, like a prostitute with a frequent flyer program for those willing to wait their turn. And when it comes to chocolate, all I need is a passion for making a mess and inhaling cacoa vapors, and I’ll find myself churning out artisanal chocolates by the pound while singing Chim-Chim-Cheree, I’m as lucky as lucky can be.
So what happened? There I was, standing around in my Chocolate Covered Kitchen, waiting for my passion to strike, and all I felt was tired. Something was clearly wrong with me. I was out of work and had no money, but instead of finding my predicament to be an exciting challenge, it depressed me. I had gotten out of shape and while I was getting back into shape for no better reason than I have nice clothes in smaller sizes, I just can’t bring myself to jog in the drizzle or join a gym where I’ll have the opportunity to sweat profusely and meet new men simultaneously. And meeting new men has become about as exciting as a field trip to the local Rotary Club, given the remnants available to those of us last minute shoppers. In short, the more I realized I needed to find some passion, the more I became convinced that there was something wrong with me because I just couldn’t get passionate about finding any passion. So I decided to do something wild, which is to say, drive to Portland to visit my brother.
Of course, I’d have to bring him some chocolates. I’ve been blogging about chocolates long enough to have blogged my way into a chocolate covered corner and now anywhere I go I’m expected to show up with a box or two of the luscious little truffles I brag about. Last couple of times I dropped in on him, I took Theo’s chocolates and apologies for not having had the time to make my own. But you can get away with that excuse only so long – especially when you’re out of work and have more time on your hands than a prisoner serving 20 to life. So I polished the molds, plotted my chocolates – I’d mold and fill this, that and the other thing – and then I did nothing. I spent the entire day avoiding this, that and the other thing and managed to end the night without making a single chocolate and not even driving to the store to pick up another Theo chocolate bar. Instead I went to bed at nine o’clock, where the only thing that needed to get done was lose consciousness till daybreak.
Come morning, Mira took off for a camping trip to vampire territory and I was ready to hit the road as soon as the traffic jams dissolved. Which, I realized as I was throwing an overnight bag together, was just enough time to whip out a mold or two of chocolates, like the thought hadn’t even occurred to me the day before when I had an entire day to squander.
So I threw the Pyrex bowl on top of the sauce pan, dumped in a couple of pounds of single origin dark, got out the laser thermometer and started melting. I stirred with my left hand and thrust my right hand into the freezer. I pulled out some frozen ganache (having half a dozen disposable pastry bags filled with various flavored fillings stored in the freezer door for just such an occasion), and by the time the chocolate had melted and molded and set, the ganache was ready to pipe into the chocolate shells. I knew I couldn’t put together a variety of chocolates, but a simple milk chocolate ganache in a pretty dark chocolate swirl, and some crushed nuts sprinkled into a candy bar mold and topped with the pomegranate-rhubarb ganache that lost the chocolate contest would be just perfect. I turned out the chocolates, wrapped the bars, boxed the swirls, hit the road, and made it to Portland before the five o’clock traffic jams.
“These are your best yet,” my brother told me, popping them into his mouth with a side of Côte du Rhone. His wife spit out the pomegranate rhubarb and washed her mouth out with a fistful of the milk chocolates. No matter, all the more for us. My brother sliced the pomegranate-rhubarb bar into delicate slivers and we savored them like breath strips melting on our tongues while talking late into the night about uncloseted family secrets.
By the time I got back home to Seattle the next day, it finally dawned on me that Mira was finishing another year of school, which meant that there was another teacher to thank for teaching her things she’s better off not knowing, and so there was yet another box of chocolates to be made. I polished the molds and got back to work and in just a few hours turned out another four – some more milk chocolate swirls, an orange-infused white shell filled with a 70% single origin dark from Madagascar, some chipotle-lime fleur-de-lis, and my signature saffron fans. “Your chocolates make Godiva taste like Hershey’s,” the teacher said, and I smiled.
I’d smiled all through the making of the last six batches of chocolate, I realized. I’d put off making chocolates for so long that the thought of making them seemed like such an effort; I’d rather dust the back of the t.v. or organize my light bulbs. Yet once I started making them, I made them effortlessly, smoothly, like gliding through the kitchen in high heels and pearls while preparing meatloaf and drinking martinis.
But I didn’t make them with any passion. And that’s when it hit me. I have a passion for gumbo, for a good sauce, a perfectly roasted bird, spectacular dinners and lively conversation. In those cases, I hit the kitchen with a fury, tear through it like a mad scientist and serve up my passion like the love child of Gordon Ramsey and Dorothy Parker. But when it comes to making chocolate, I don’t enter the kitchen with my soul on fire, I enter it with my soul drenched and shaking like a wet dog chasing its own tail. Waiting for that passion to strike was absurd, like waiting for Godot. It would never arrive. But wanting to take a box of chocolates to my brother, wanting to give a box of chocolates to a wonderful teacher, stirred a love inside me that moved me to make them, easily and quickly. I wasn’t thinking at all about making them; I was focused on giving them.
You can’t force passion, I realized as I suckled a delicious chocolate I’d made myself, but you can create love. And by working on my chocolate craft in the kitchen, I wasn’t igniting any passion, but I was creating a new love. A love for good chocolates, and a love for the friends and family I share them with, which outlives passion any day. All it takes is a little chocolate, a little love, and most of all, a looming deadline, and we can do anything, passion be damned.
Picture Credits: Flickr pic of Roy Lichtenstein’s Kiss by A902808; Flickr pic of Miss Pole Dance Australia by Dreadfuldan; Flick pic of Sleeping Beauty by Lady Sophia; Flickr pic of Another Day in Paradise by Steve and Sara. All blurry chocolate pics obscured by glare by Janice Harper who still hasn’t learned to use a camera.