Friday, October 19, 2007

All Hallow’s Chocolate

There are two schools of competing thought regarding why I love chocolate...

The first is that my adoration for all-things-Hershey was inborn. As a toddler my favorite word was “candy,” which I proclaimed repeatedly in a certain supermarket aisle probably before I could walk. Favorite game, Candyland; favorite movie, “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (featuring favorite song, Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Candyman”) and in my humble opinion, Halloween was a much better holiday than a silly old birthday.

You may or may not know the second school of thought, which started in the middle of the night during my 5th year. As the story goes, I woke up asphyxiating and was checked into an oxygen tank because that moment was when I officially inherited my mother’s asthma. I didn’t really mind the hospital stay, because it sorta reminded me of Halloween. You know, I was wearing a costume, and a mask, and one day my mom snuck a Snickers bar into the tank and on another day my dad snuck a Milky Way into the tank. It was heaven! A nice nurse even provided a special treat one day, a thick slice of triple chocolate layer cake that was so good I wondered why I didn’t stay at the hospital more often.

Idiot. On the day I was due to check out, a cranky old doctor gave the test results to my parents and he concluded that I had asthma, plus allergies: to dust, to mold, to trees, to milk, and to chocolate. Wait what did he say? Allergic to chocolate?? Noooooooooooo!!!” I silently screamed in my shy five-year-old head.

This diagnosis was taken quite seriously by mom, as I was stunned to learn that my after-school Oreos, Yodels, M&M's (my candy initials), Nestle's Quik and Halloween-candied Octobers would be no more. (Well, I was allowed to Trick-or-Treat, but then the chocolate was put away and doled out in teensy portions on special occasions.) So you can probably understand why some believe this sad revelation caused my passion for chocolate to magnify in festering intensity through the years, with dreams of becoming Charlie Bucket teasing me even more!

Many years later, ie. 12, I was invited to a slumber party at Holly Somesuch’s house down the block when I saw it… a non-parentally guarded giant bowl of plain M&M’s that I ever so coolly placed near my sleeping bag. Yes who needs sleep when you can talk about boys while dipping a rogue hand into that fascinating bottomless bowl all night long… Hospital be damned! By the time I sugar-crashed, rumor has it that half that bowl was gone—the equivalent to about 12 oz.—and the obvious end to that tale is I did not in fact wake up dead.

This life-changing discovery (that the doctor was, how do you say it, WRONG?) was exuberantly shared the next day with mom, who got really mad and said what I did was way too risky to repeat. And so it goes, the nurturing of my habit started secretly out of the house. Sometimes in the house too, in my bedroom closet. Now it does help a covert operation if all ducks are in a row—admittedly I had no garbage etiquette then, resulting in empty chocolate bar wrappers strewn about everywhere in my room for people, and mothers, to see. Which she did. And there was a confrontation, and I was so afraid of choco-retribution that I lied in the heat of that moment, confessing that the chocolate had been devoured by my friends, yes really!, and they gave the wrappers to me because "I now collect chocolate bar wrappers."

Well, believe it or not that went more smoothly than expected. Mom either believed me on that fateful day or she’s a damn good actress! In any event, I don't remember which wrappers she found, but the guilt of lying got to me soon after, so the collecting part started seriously then and I brought home a first wrapper (Twix bar), and a second (Cadbury Easter egg), and a third (Reese’s peanut butter cup Easter egg) just to make things right. After that, it’s all a blur.

Through the years, friends and strangers have sent wrappers for the collection, particularly Stanislav Kramsky in Prague, who in the 1980’s had 60,000 wrappers and sent me some awesome factory-condition ones from the Czech Republic and the USSR. I’d like to eventually visit Prague and stop by his mini chocolate museum, where hopefully he won’t remember me as “that American girl who sent only a pittance of some stupid American wrappers in return for the hundred or so I sent!” (It's not my fault, there were only limited resources available at the time!!)

If you're curious, the way the collection has grown is by picking up lots of chocolate bars when traveling. Friends pick them up too (thank you!), and I also received some from a pen pal during the Gulf War but for the life of me can’t find them (though one can assume they’re probably the ones with the Arabic writing).

These days there are thousands of wrappers in the collection, and two newspaper articles and one radio interview about this habit. And I still love chocolate, more than ever, perhaps due to a gigantic time-space-continuum hiccup in my chocolate consumption past, or simply because I was born to love it.

(Hershey's) Kiss,

Monday, October 1, 2007

Where I've been foodie-ing about

Happpppy October!

A few days ago as I reviewed my calendar, and my waistline, it seemed to be that lately I've been trying new tastes at new-to-me restaurants. Ok so yes Zankou has been visited many times; otherwise, here is the list of places, mostly in order of appearance and each with a link to more information, including what I devoured in the last 10 days that was so darn good:

Barn Burner in Pasadena - A big ole Texas-themed BBQ place that's a real hoot... and it's in a barn! Great big menu, like Texas itself, with lots of smoked meats to try, tempting sides and a pretty unique microbrew selection. Neil ordered the KT Rancher and I had the Stubby Clarksdale. No I don't remember exactly what those entailed -- see the link to view the exact components -- though I do remember the tri-tip and corn bread were quite tasty. Oh and see that photo below, this is probably the only BBQ joint around with a real grill stepping in for a sink in the men's bathroom! Crazy Texans.

BJ's Brewery in Burbank - The Pizookie, their warm chocolate chip cookie in a skillet with vanilla ice cream pretty much rocked my world. The buffalo wings weren't so fantastic, but now that I know how to order them at this establishment (well done and tossed) I will venture to try them again.

Hot Wings on Melrose - However, I can't imagine any wings would be as good as the ones found at Hot Wings. Thanks Tim for the tip and for bringing an LA place that serves east-coast-worthy wings to my attention. They rock! (I ordered them "hot".) BTW they serve Philly cheesesteaks too, and don't listen to the bad review from 7/11 at the Citysearch link, I completely disagree. This place is a definite keeper.

Albano's Brooklyn Pizzeria on Melrose - We ordered the pepperoni which was great but it's actually their "lasagna" pizza that was so original and so good! Basically it's a regular slice of pizza with both a tomato and ricotta base (so a red and white pizza all in one) topped with crumbled meatballs and basil. How good is their pizza? Why I believe it made Neil's top 10, so it's probably worth the $2.75 per slice price.

Zankou Chicken in Burbank - Mark, Lily and I each ordered the 1/4 chicken white, which comes with a succulent roast chicken quarter, hummus, garlic dip, 2 warm pitas and a salad of tomatoes and pickled beets. For $6.95 it really doesn't get better than that. Though try to stick to the Burbank location, it's way cleaner and friendlier than the one on Sunset.

Village Idiot on Melrose - Not the low-down Irish pub one would think, this is more of a gastro-pub right by Albano's and Hot Wings (I see a food crawl in my future). Erin and I ordered the catfish with a side of Brussels sprouts with bacon. The sprouts were halved and roasted, which is the best way. Will go back to try their grilled chicken with warm bread salad and peach shortcake for dessert. A great beer selection too, with my hefeweizen microbrew actually smelling and tasting of bananas. This spot feels cool and New Yorky, and is a winner even if the pints seem a little too small.

Milk on Beverly Blvd. - This place at the corner of Beverly and Poinsettia was recently written up in Gourmet magazine and the photo of the Milkie Way Malt got me revved. This particular shake is made with the shop's homemade vanilla ice cream, malted milk, chocolate chips and a caramel-chocolate swirl. Yum. Yes I said yum. Oh and with tax this baby cost $5.95, meaning it's a once-in-a-blue-moon sort of indulgence in a world where you can get a great shake at fast food places for less.

Food is great, isn't it?
Until we eat again,