Senor & I are backing off on the booze this month, albeit without going the whole Dry July hog as we did last year (now that was a looong month – can’t believe I even attended the Byron Bay Writers’ Festival and stayed off the vino. I see they’re being more humane this year, and putting it back to August where it belongs…).
We’re thinking of this month as Quite Damp July instead, cutting out the booze except for weekends (and yes, I do include Friday and Sunday!).
While I still find this midweek abstinence exceedingly dull, especially if socialising with friends over dinner, it’s a hell of a lot easier now I have figured out that my traditional bodily six-o’clock wine time alarm bell may actually be, apart from the signal for the welcome end-of-working-day reward, a craving for sugar as much as for the booze itself.
I discovered this because, in compensation for lack of wine, I have begun dosing self with a couple of pieces of dark chocolate and a cup of peppermint tea at 5.30pm. Presto. No ‘GodDAMN I want a drink!’ cravings, which I used to think were entirely psychological. So unless I have created a successful self-medicating placebo effect (can you placebo-fool yourself?), I think the ol’ bod actually craves sugar at the end of the day, and because I’ve never been a dessert person or had a particularly sweet tooth (or so I thought), the only real sugar hit I get is the vino. Interesting.
So – on to the topic and my new drug of choice: chocolate. Dark chocolate, to be specific. Not too sweet, but sweet enough to get a girl through the evening. At the moment I’m swinging between Green & Black’s Organic Dark 70% Chocolate, which is nice and bitter, and not too sweet at all; and Lindt’s Excellence dark chocolate with chilli – a little sweeter than the G&B’s, and with that nice added mouth-warmth from the chilli.
I know there are serious chocolate connoisseurs out there, but suspect I’ll never become one of them – too much of a salt fiend to get seriously into the choccies. However, I did come across this nice piece in the New Yorker, in which a chocolatier called Rick Mast, “New York City’s only bean-to-bar chocolate maker”, pairs different literary masterpieces with the appropriate chocolate, from Leaves of Grass to Pride and Prejudice to Walden. And here I found mention of something I might seriously like: a chocolate called 81% with fleur de sel – can such a perfect combo really exist?! I’m not sure if this is a joke or no, but here’s Mr Mast on Shakespeare and my fantasy chocolate:
Othello, “Othello,” by William Shakespeare
81% with Fleur de Sel
This proud, lovesick Moor should be paired with eighty-one per cent dark chocolate, seasoned with chocolate’s version of the Venetian Sea, fleur de sel. The sea salt gives context to the sugar, intensifying not only the floral and cinnamon notes but also the sweetness. The complexity of the delicately salted chocolate may even surpass Othello’s jealousy, but at least your mouth will have a happy ending. Avoid your own jealous rampage by not sharing.
Hmm. Investigation needed, methinks.
Oh and if you are looking for a chocolate cake recipe, as it’s the only kind of cake I seem to make (apart from my new love, the whole l’orange variety…), I can vouch for the following two chocolate triumphs. These both involve little more than melting some of the good stuff and bunging in ovens, but as usual I end up cooking these for much longer than the recipes say.
The first is the chocolate fudge cake in Yotam Ottolenghi’s fabulous eponymous cookbook (he of the excellent New Vegetarian column in the Guardian) – I highly recommend this book, as it’s full of surprising, flavoursome dishes that are incredibly simple to make but have beautiful complexity of flavour, and heaps of it is vego. Not to mention that the book is a beautiful shiny luscious thing in itself.
The second is Maggie Beer’s absolutely divine chocolate cake with whisky-soaked raisins and orange zest. Oh, my. I think this recipe title speaks for itself, don’t you? It’s from her book Maggie’s Kitchen, about which I have raved before.
OK. I’m feeling quite faint with all this cacao-bean chaos on the loose, so I must go and have another cup of tea and a good lie down. But while I’m resting, do tell me all your dark chocolatey secrets? Favourites to buy or make? July is a long month, after all …