Friday, February 17, 2006

five stars

i am a chocolate ho; i'll eat almost any kind, no matter how debased. m and m's make me as happy as a hand-dipped jacques torres bonbon. mind you, this does not apply to cakes or cookies. i will gnaw my knuckles rather than eat a duncan hines cake, and lick the sidewalk rather than eat a chips ahoy. but when it comes to candy, it's all the same to me.

my friend laurie has been showering me with books of food writing, of late. the latest addition to my collection is "best of food writing, 2004," and i have been devouring it like it was a bag of good chocolate. the articles are excellent, and cover a wide swath of content and style. one piece, however, has walked away with my heart. a man named steve almond, a candyfreak, wrote a piece about the five star gourmet chocolate bars made by a company called lake champlain chocolates. before now, i didn't think food writing could make me laugh out loud. he writes as i wish i could write, tastes as i wish i could taste. in short, i am planning on writing him a letter and asking him to mentor me, i dunno, marry me, fuse his brain with mine, what have you.

a highlight: steve, completely obsessing over this new chocolate bar, goes to the factory to meet their "chocolate engineer."

"i suppose i was aware, in an abstract way," he writes, "that there were men and women upon this earth who served in this capacity, as chocolate engineers. in the same way that i was aware that there are job titles out there such as bacon taster and sex surrogate, which is to say, job titles that made me want to weep over my own appointed lot in life."

steve almond's writing was so winsome, that i became mildly obsessed with the five star bar, and wondered when i might come upon one. yesterday, in garden of eden (the store, not the biblical location), as i approached my cashier, i glanced down briefly at the sucker shelves. the sucker shelves are the shelves at the front stocked with all manner of overpriced chocolates and mints and gum, and from which i have never bought a thing in my whole life. there, right in front of me were some five star bars, looking nothing like what i had expected. small, like fancy chunky bars, they were thick and compact. i grabbed a peanut one, then remembered that the chocolate engineer himself loves the fruit and nut, and so made a quick swap.

i eat many of my meals on the run, which is no way to enjoy something. i really tried to hold onto the bar and save it for when i was still, maybe even seated, but i am an impatient girl, especially in regards to food. i pulled it out as i exited the astor place station, unwrapped it on the stairwell, and sunk my teeth in.

it's really good. steve almond is right, i suppose, but i didn't see the baby jesus, or cry with joy or anything. maybe i should have had the peanut instead? in moments like this i am reminded what makes greatness, and it's obsession. last weekend in baltimore i saw a 6 foot long model of the lusitania made out of matchsticks ("2 1/2 years of work," read the museum label), and had the same thought. steve almond is a great food writer because this bar made his head explode, and sent him on a journey to figure out how and why and where it was made. and he studied these bars as though it were rocket science, and wrote a beautiful piece about them, as though it were moby freakin' dick. 5 stars to you, steve almond, my food-obsessed new friend.

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