Love Every Day
…a chocolatier’s lifelong relationship with the world’s favorite indulgence
Note: This is the uncensored version of the “Hot Plate” article from the January/February 2011 issue of Edible Seattle—my last published piece for the magazine.
This is also my explanation of why I left the magazine.
It’s a bit painful for me to share, as I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to write for Edible Seattle, and appreciate all those who contribute to it. I loved my regular sex and food feature. But given the hostile political/cultural climate related to sex in this country, I think it’s important to discuss my departure from Edible Seattle, especially as many people are now discovering that “Hot Plate” is missing from the current issue.
Much to my surprise (and that of my editor, who has always supported my writing), my publisher made his own changes to the article below just before it hit the press. The reason was not space, but content.
There had been a few isolated complaints about my sex-related column appearing in a food magazine, including a call from a store owner on Bainbridge Island who faced opposition from a couple of customers. Given my years of experience as a sex educator dealing with issues like this, I would guess that the complaints came from non-subscribers. In fact, they were probably people who don’t even read the magazine, but who act as “moral guardians” of our society.
It’s frightening how many people are dealing with their own sexual issues. Sadly, they often have an underlying discomfort with sex, and an inability to constructively communicate about it. This is true not only of my opposition, but, amazingly, even some I would normally expect to be allies.
Sexual health services and sex education are under attack in this country. In the past year, we’ve seen the Merriam Webster dictionary and Anne Frank’s diary pulled off the shelves of public schools because of complaints about sexual content, however minor.
After the censorship of the article you’re about to read, I insisted on rights to final approval of any changes to future articles. My publisher insisted on too many cuts to the “Hot Plate” article slated for the March/April issue of Edible Seattle (now available), so I pulled it. I will be posting that piece shortly.
For now, I am sharing the previous piece, with the censored parts highlighted. Not only were the cuts absurd, but they changed the quality of my writing and the tone of the article, particularly in the case of the conclusion.
Marlene Dietrich once said, “Americans don’t have sex, they have sex problems.”
I’m saddened that personal discomfort with sex resulted in censorship, contributing to our current trend of holding sex education hostage, and feeding the culture of animosity toward sexual rights.
A handful of people complained. My publisher, in essence, among them. The opposition, achieving its goal in getting the column removed, won. Sadly, I now count my ex-publisher as part of the opposition.
Americans’ sex problems continue.
And now, the article…
Chocolate is sexy. There, I said it.
The connections between sex and chocolate have historical roots. Chocolate’s long been considered an aphrodisiac; in fact, in Aztec times, the power of chocolate was so strong that women were forbidden from eating it. (If you ask me, this might actually be when the women’s rights movement first began!)
While students might not learn that Aztec emperor Montezuma reportedly drank 50 goblets of red-dyed chocolate per day to increase his sexual prowess, they certainly know that green M&Ms make you horny—even when they’re too young to know what “horny” means. And don’t a lot of chocolate products have suggestive names? (Consider: Ding Dong, Ho Ho, Oh Henry!, Mounds and Butterfinger.) Chocolate can certainly be romantic, as we see during Valentine’s Day, but there’s always been a more erotic quality to it, evidenced by products like chocolate body paints and powders, genital-shaped candies, and the playful cakes and cookies available at Seattle’s Erotic Bakery.
But a visit with a local chocolatier reveals what chocolate can really teach us.
Autumn Martin first discovered her interest in the culinary world when she found herself working in a restaurant at a Truckee, California ski resort. (She gasps with astonishment when I point out the irony of the resort name: Sugar Bowl.) Inspired by watching the chef at work, she returned to Seattle and got a job at Honey Bear Bakery, which helped fund her culinary degree at Edmonds Community College. Shortly afterward, Autumn was lucky to land a job as pastry cook at Canlis. Delivery of chocolate samples piqued her curiosity in cacao, leading her to become head chocolatier at Theo Chocolate. She spent 4-1/2 years at Theo, recently leaving to develop her Hot Cakes business—which includes her popular bake-at-home, molten chocolate cake that comes in a four-ounce jar and is simply gooey goodness.
Autumn concurs that chocolate is seductively sexy, speaking dreamily while she tempers it. Citing its shininess, she notes that chocolate is “beautiful food,” and then marvels that it tastes good and is full of many different flavor profiles. There are numerous points of appeal. “Chocolate has this really smooth, sensual quality, the way it drips and pours,” she regales, adding, “There’s something really attractive about the fluidity of it…the way it melts in your mouth.”
Autumn especially lights up when she tells me about the opportunities she’s had to get chocolate not just inside people, but outside as well. “I love chocolate and the human body together,” she exclaims as she tells me about an artistic event in which she painted entire bodies in chocolate. Most impressionable for the subjects? First was how soft the skin felt afterward from all the cocoa butter that soaked in for hours. Second, Autumn says, was the “’whew’ kind of high” from the body absorbing all the theobromine from the chocolate. This after they screamed aloud about chocolate dripping off their hair, into their eyes, and between the buttocks—but ultimately found the experience intoxicating.
Further discussing the delights of chocolate, Autumn tells me she believes that chocolate stimulates the body, though she’s not sure if chemically it’s an aphrodisiac. But she is fond of creating aphrodisiacal confections for Valentine’s Day, doing infusions with herbs like damiana—an herb whose leaves have a chamomile-like scent, and which some people call Mexican Viagra. Curious to know whether a chocolatier appreciates a chocolate gift on Valentine’s Day, she says not really, as she’s always eating it, then smiles and adds, “I want love every day.”
The temptation and stimulation of chocolate can make it addictive. Autumn talks about the intensity of working with chocolate—of being around it and eating it daily. One day, having had her fill, she realized she had to get away from it. “I was like no chocolate, no sugar, I want it out of my life,” she recalls, taking a sabbatical from Theo and threatening, “Screw you, chocolate, I don’t need you.”
But turns out she did. “During that time, I discovered that I still really wanted to eat chocolate,” she says, noting, “I still wanted that flavor and that texture in my mouth.” Pralus’ Le 100% bar, made from 100% Madagascan cocoa, fulfilled her desire for chocolate without sugar. Autumn couldn’t get away from chocolate, and soon returned to both eating and creating confections. She talks about her sabbatical as an “evolution” in which she refined her connection and found the right way to incorporate chocolate into her life:
“That right there in a long-term relationship is a really good lesson: determining how to keep something or somebody in your life…for a long period of time.…How can I take a step back and analyze my connection to whatever it is and find a way to be committed and still true to what I need? So it’s helped me to slow down, to take a step back, and not be so impulsive. Chocolate…it’s so slow—you saw how long it took me to temper the chocolate—chocolate simply cannot be rushed.”
Hearing Autumn’s words while watching her work, I’m struck by the thought that it’s easy to take both sex and chocolate for granted, and that we need to slow down to appreciate both.
Think about it. When we’re young, we’re typically not picky about our chocolate. I recall Halloween, and how I’d often eat the chocolate faster than I could Trick-or-Treat it into my bag, with minimal pause and consideration. Oh, I had my preferences, and would trade my Mounds and Almond Joys for Three Musketeers and Milky Ways, but I was still wolfing it all down, going for quantity over quality. As the term “sugar rush” implies, eating chocolate was a fast experience.
Fast, of course, is a sexual term meaning easy. For many young people (and some not-so-young), sex mirrors their chocolate-eating habits. During the early years of sexual discovery, they experiment with many partners, sampling around and going through them quickly.
Exceptions aside, I’d say that most young people are not really enjoying sex. They’re just indulging in it, accumulating and tossing aside partners like wrappers. They tend to consume sex without really relishing it.
Contrast that to Autumn making truffles, celebrating the sound as she taps the molds and the sight as it rains chocolate. It’s a process that thrills the senses—the very senses that should come into play when we learn to really taste chocolate. Observing the texture and shine of the chocolate. Listening to the snap when we break off a bite. Inhaling the aroma at the break point to discern the different scents. Placing the chocolate on the tongue and letting it melt to get the mouthfeel. Chewing a bite to take in the texture and the flavors, whether fruity, herbal, floral, or something else.
Do we take the time to “taste” a partner—new or old—in the same way? How well can we describe the softness of the nape of his or her neck? The natural body odor? The sound of him or her breathing during sex, or after? The shape of the torso? The taste of a kiss? Do we note the nuances, or has making love become as routine as buying a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day?
As we strive for better quality, as many of us do as we get older, we interact with the chocolate, finding out its origins, how it was made, who was involved in the process, how it got where it is today. I’d suggest we do the same with our partners. Many of us in long-term relationships probably have some catching up to do.
Autumn not only grew to love chocolate again, but loves how it helps her evaluate her relationships and pay attention to the details of life. To be patient and enjoy the process, being aware with all the senses:
“One of my most favorite things to do at the beach, and it’s always been true, is to stand in the sand right where the waves creep up onto the beach and then wait for the waves to roll over my feet and suck the sand out from under them. I’ve always loved that. And little things like that with food—like touching this cocoa powder and letting it crumble in between my fingers—that kind of stuff has always gotten me. That scene in Amélie where she sticks her hands out into a bin of grains…Yes! Yes!”
(Photos by Rina Jordan.)