Not-So-Sweet Jesus

If you take a stroll down your supermarket’s greeting card aisle today, you’ll find Valentine’s Day cards long gone and Easter cards in full force. It’s only the start of Lent, yet the aisle is bursting bright with pink bunnies, yellow chicks, and painted eggs. I won’t be sending Easter cards this year (haven’t done so since my kids were little) but I will give up something for Lent. I’m thinking “foods with added sugar”.

I know what you’re thinking.  We live in an age where giving up tempting foods isn’t as difficult as it used to be.  Whole foods are so available we have an entire chain of stores called “Whole Foods”.  Sugar has so many alternatives I should revise my sacrifice to “foods with added sweeteners“.  Even processed foods have matured to where “healthy snacks” are pleasing to the palate.  I have options.

Doesn’t matter.  Dropping added sugar will still be a challenge.  My desk drawer (second one down on the left if you’d like to help yourself) is replete with black and red licorice, and some form of chocolate, be it a bar, a cookie, or those little baking morsels straight out of the bag.  Giving up licorice for forty-six days and nights won’t be a stretch, but NO chocolate for all of March and half of April sounds like an eternity.  What can I say?  Everyone has a weakness and mine is chocolate.  It speaks to me from my closed drawer with “come hither” seductiveness.

Straight out of the bag…YUM!

I’ll bet you’ll find thousands of blog posts about chocolate with a quick search.  I’ll bet you’ll find entire blogs about the sweet stuff.  I just checked my blog’s history and unearthed a dozen takes on chocolate (including this one from a year ago talking about the things people give up for Lent.  Chocolate tops the list).  So let’s make it a baker’s dozen because I invented a chocolate challenge.  I call it the “85 Percent Ascent”.

Let me explain.  There was a time when I liked my coffee sweeter than a Starbucks Sugar Cookie Frappuccino.  Together with artificial creamer I’d dump in sugar cubes or pour the white stuff straight from whatever you call those pourable glass containers.  That was a long, long time ago.  At some point (probably, er definitely my college year abroad in Italy) I realized coffee tasted pretty good all by itself.  I started to wonder why you’d “taint” coffee by adding the other stuff.  But let’s be real: it’s not like you go from Frappuccino to Americano cold turkey.  You’ve got to ease into the one extreme from the other.  Slowly I backed down the sugar (like years-slowly).  Slowly I backed down the creamer.  One day I eliminated the sugar altogether.  Today, I still go with a tablespoon of (almond-coconut non-dairy no-sugar) “creamer” but otherwise it’s straight dark-roasted coffee for me. I even fancy an espresso shot every now and then.

It’s a good analogy for my Percent Ascent challenge.  85% cocoa content is seriously dark chocolate (meaning not sweet at all).  If your go-to is a Hershey’s Bar or a Milky Way you’re down below 50%.  And moving from 50% to 85% is a serious ascent with chocolate.  It’s like standing on top of Kilimanjaro and seeing how much further you have to go to summit Everest.

A recent article on chocolate lists nine criteria for the healthiest and best-tasting bars in the world, including:

  1. The first ingredient must be cocoa, cocoa mass, or chocolate liquor (not sugar or milk chocolate).  In other words, put down the Nestle’s Crunch; it’s not even close.
  2. Ingredients must include real cocoa butter instead of (cheaper) vegetable oils.  95% of America’s chocolate manufacturers just dropped out of the race.
  3. The cocoa must come from an “Equator country” like Ivory Coast, Ghana, or Peru.
  4. The bar should be labeled “Organic” and/or “Non-GMO”.
  5. Bonus points: should be fairly traded and ethically harvested.

As if the search isn’t already difficult, NOW you have to go with >85% cocoa content.  Not so hard to find actually, especially if you go online.  I purchased a bar from five different manufacturers meeting every one of the above criteria, including Green & Black’s from the UK, and Theo from Seattle.   All five bars fall between 85% and 90% cocoa content (and yes, 100% is an option).  All five use scary words like “strong”, “super black”, and “extreme” to describe their product.  Not gonna lie; I’m a little nervous to take a bite.

As bitter as these chocolates are sure to be, I still have to give them up for Lent.  Every one of them has “added sugar” (albeit way down on the ingredients list).  So let’s just agree – I’m not going to break my Lenten covenant on a food that doesn’t even taste sweet.  Think I’ll opt for a piece of fruit instead.  I just hope it doesn’t come from the Garden of Eden.

Some content sourced from the “Experience Life” / Life Time article, “How to Find the Healthiest Dark Chocolate”.

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Lego Grand Piano – Update #7

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

Last week

I worked outside of the box again this week. Bag #7 – of 21 bags of pieces – assembled a second layer on top of the section I can’t yet attach to the bigger section behind it.  From “Last week” to “This week”, you can see I worked almost entirely in black, which suggests I’m creating more of the outside of the piano.

Despite the majestic wash of Debussy’s “La Mer”, Bag #7 was completed in less than thirty minutes, with only one heart-pounding moment where I thought I’d left out pieces in the Bag #6 build.  Thank goodness I was wrong. Still on track.

This week

Running Build Time: 6.0 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Debussy’s La Mer and Prélude à l’aprés-midi d’un Faune (try and say that ten times fast). Leftover pieces: One (clearly an extra, whew!)

Conductor’s Note: Today’s build wasn’t very exciting, so it helped to have Debussy booming in the background.  However, as I turned the page of Mr. Instruction Manual in anticipation of Bag #8, I saw pictures of… long, thin, reed-like pieces.  Holy buckets, Maestro, it’s time to make this piano a stringed instrument!

Sliced With Love

In ten months’ time, my daughter will be getting married. The planning of this event is sure to inspire an occasional post on this blog. My daughter is so laser-focused on the details of her big day it’s as if her hospital crib should’ve been labeled “Wedding Planner” instead of “Kelly”. Let’s pluck one item from her list today.  Or rather, taste one item.  Let’s talk about wedding cake.

Are you a fan of this grandiose dessert?  Do you revel in the wedding ceremony and the reception, but secretly count down the minutes ’til the big white cake is sliced and served?  Twenty years ago you’d be guaranteed a piece of wedding cake.  Today, the after-dinner options run the gamut.  A cupcake from a tower.  A cookie from an endless table.  Strawberries from a chocolate fountain.  Petit fours or truffles.  Cream puffs.

That’s some veil… er, CAKE!

Given all those temptations, I still choose wedding cake.  Why?  Because it’s not just any cake.  Wedding cake is heavy and layered and full of frosting.  It’s sinfully delicious.  Furthermore, wedding cake makes a statement, one much bigger than the generic desserts you find in the supermarket bakery.  Consider, wedding cake is:

  • white.  “Well of course it is, Dave, but so are a lot of other cakes.”  Yes, but in this case, white means pure and refined (as with the bride’s dress).  Makes that bite of cake just a little more special.
  • tiered.  It’s like several cakes in one.  Stacked with columns or not, cake tiers create an elegant display (and serve a lot of people, avoiding a cake the size of the American flag).  Don’t even think about a taste of the uppermost layer.  It’s (supposed to be) reserved for the bride & groom to enjoy on their one-year anniversary.
  • topped.  Sure, a kid’s cake can have a doll or a dump truck, or some other toy on its surface.  Birthday cakes are dotted with candles.  But only wedding cakes have true “toppers”, typically a miniature bride & groom.  These days you don’t see wedding cake toppers so much.  I’m okay with that (even though I liked the little Precious Moments couple atop our own cake).
  • fondant-ed.  Fondant is like edible wallpaper.  It’s a smooth, dense, shiny layer of sugary frosting you can roll out like cookie dough, to perfectly costume the cake, or to create flowers and other three-dimensional objects.  Fondant seems to come out of the closet just for wedding cakes.  My take?  Fondant looks a lot better than it tastes.  In other words, I’m not really “fond” of it.
  • a statement.  Think about it.  At a wedding you’re celebrating what is, at least for now, the most important day in the lives of the bride & groom.  It’s not as if this occasion happens once a year or on holidays.  It happens once.  Sit back and admire your plate for a second.  That’s an important slice of cake you’ve got there.
Gotcha!

Here’s a happy-ending wedding cake story for you.  When my wife & I got married, our hotel not only hosted the reception, but also created the wedding cake.  As we dashed away to our honeymoon they assured us they’d keep the top layer in their refrigerators.  But when we returned, there was no top layer to be found anywhere.  Maybe a waiter got a little hungry one night or something.  Anyway, without skipping a beat, they perfectly recreated our top layer at no extra charge.  One year later we enjoyed our anniversary with cake after all.  How did it taste?  Just like you’d expect a one-year-old piece of cake to taste.  We threw the rest away.

Our cake (w/ fondant latticework!)

Here’s a slice of wedding cake trivia.  It’s technically called “bride’s cake”.  Sometimes you find two cakes at wedding receptions.  The darker, shorter, more modest-looking dessert; he’s called a “groom’s cake”.  He’s meant to acknowledge more manly tastes.  Accordingly, a groom’s cake is often alcohol-infused.  Or covered in chocolate.  Or shaped like a football.  But no matter how you slice it, the bride’s cake wins out with the bigger, bolder statement.  Hmmm… guys, is there an underlying message at work here?

A groom’s cake

Heads up as I close this post.  There’s a reason I chose wedding cake as today’s topic.  This week, you and the $300 you’ve been saving for a rainy day could win a slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake.  It’s up for auction as we speak.  It’s forty years old, wrapped in plastic and packed into an old cake tin.  One of a kind, right?  Not really.  Charles and Diana had so many guests at their royal celebration they required twenty-three wedding cakes.

No wonder there’s still a slice left.

Some content sourced from the CNN.com article, “A slice of Princess Diana’s wedding cake is going up for auction”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.