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On the Road with Chocolateby Cecilia Galante
Recently on tour for my novel The Patron Saint of Butterflies, I was able to visit a great deal of the West Coast, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Portland, Seattle and Phoenix. I also had the distinct privilege of getting to eat at a great number of very good restaurants. Which also means that I got to eat some really great desserts. Chocolate desserts. Some were disappointing, like the too-dry hot fudge pudding cake in San Jose which not even copious amounts of sauce could bring to life, or the bittersweet brownie tart in Phoenix which, unevenly heated, was smoking hot in the middle and still chilled on the edges. But there were some actually three which took my breath away.
My very first meal, on an ocean deck yards away from the Pacific Ocean, with a group of the funniest women I have ever met, is a perfect example. The troupe of us laughed and hollered, talking about books and people, and I found myself clutching my sides more than once. I decided to finish my simple fish and rice meal with a dessert called chocolate cigars. Three thin crepes were filled with a warm chocolate filling, then rolled up tight, and sprinkled with raw cocoa. Delicate raspberries dotted the plate like tiny flowers. I took my time eating the cigars, nibbling at the edges, and swirling the raspberries in the tiny pools of melted chocolate which dripped from the crepes. The smell of salt permeated the air as the sun sank lower and lower into the sea on our right. And I was still licking my fingers as the moon, a sliver of white, took her place high above the water.
Another dessert was a chocolate soufflé, made memorable not only for the way it tasted, but also for its spectacular delivery. Placed in front of me, it looked at first glance like a dry, cracked elephant's foot. Then the waiter leaned over my left shoulder and scooped out a small hole in the center of the soufflé with the back of a spoon. Steam curled out like a tiny geyser. The inside was dark and gooey, and stuck to the back of the spoon like tar. Next, the waiter lifted a tiny silver pitcher and poured a rich chocolate sauce into the hole, until it bubbled over and dripped down the sides. Next came a mound of barely sweetened whipped cream and finally, a dusting of cocoa powder. It was the kind of performance that left me dumbstruck. I shared the dessert with my dining companions another group of fantastic women who were as mesmerized as I by the layers of warmth, the combination of textures and finally, when all was said and done, probably the best tasting chocolate I've ever had anywhere. Hands down.
Except for maybe the plate of just-warm-enough, saucer-sized, chocolate-macadamia nut cookies I had a few days later, served alongside a dollop of chocolate ice cream and a dollop of vanilla bean ice cream. You might think that after the previously described exotic chocolate desserts, I might turn my nose up at something as simple as a chocolate chip cookie. Not so. I am not a chocolate snob. Those cookies were incredibly satisfying, made even better by sandwiching the ice cream between two of them and licking the edges all around. There were at least eight of us at the table that night. We cleaned up those cookie platters like nobody's business, in between slurps of leftover wine, cups of black coffee, and hilarious conversation.
A week or so later, as I was relaying the events of my chocolate (and book tour) adventures to my husband, something occurred to me. I'm not sure if any of the desserts, incredible as they were, would have been half as good had I not been surrounded with the company I shared them with. I've had darn good chocolate alone in the tub, in my car, sitting in an airport but now that I think of it, none of those experiences have been half as satisfying as the times I've eaten chocolate with other people. Especially people like me, who love books and writing and laughing until our sides hurt.
If you think about it, chocolate is, in many ways, a lot like people. There's the obvious light and dark, the sweet and not so sweet. Some are nutty, some are not. The occasional few are filled with fluff; others with a deep, mysterious center that takes a long time to appreciate. More than anything, though, and for all its simplicity, chocolate is incredibly complex. There are layers to chocolate that I am convinced not even the human tongue can distinguish. And that's the best part about it. No matter how many kinds of chocolate I meet in this lifetime, I still will not comprehend what made some of them so wonderful.
But that's fine with me.
Because when all is said and done, chocolate has and always will make for some of the best company around.
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Cecilia Galante grew up in a religious commune in upstate New York until the age of 15. She is currently a high school English teacher, and lives with her husband and three children in Kingston, PA.