Week Seven – The History of Chocolate and Cooking/Camping with Caroline
The History of Chocolate – Lecture and Tasting:
As Valentine’s Day approached during Week Seven of my New Things adventure, the District became replete with themed events for couples and lonely-hearts alike. As a self-proclaimed chocoholic and a history nerd, I decided to attend a lecture on “The History of Chocolate” at the Dumbarton House in Georgetown. The event was followed by a tasting of chocolate treats from various historical periods.
During the lecture portion, I learned many New Things about my favorite sweet:
- The technical name for chocolate is “Theobroma cacao” meaning “food of the Gods” in Greek. There are actually three types of cocao (criollo, forastero, and trinitario) – which have different flavors. However, 95% of modern day chocolate is made from forastero because this strain is most resistant to disease.
- Most of our chocolate comes from West Africa. Sadly, the vast majority of chocolate harvesters have never tasted chocolate because they cannot afford it. In my post-event research, I learned that many of these workers are children. I came across a number of articles addressing this disturbing issue.
- The Myans used chocolate medicinally and in religious ceremonies. The Aztecs were the first people to consume chocolate as a food for the wealthy class. In Aztec culture, chocolate was even used as currency.
- The Mesoamericans consumed chocolate as a cold, frothy drink. The Spaniards were the first to drink chocolate hot.
- According to a 17th century text by a Spanish doctor – “Chocolate is healthy, it makes the drinker fat and corpulent, faire and amiable. It is an aphrodisiac, in woman it causes fertility and eases delivery…” (1631).
- Domingo Ghiradelli was an Italian businessman who moved to the Bay Area in 1949 during the gold rush as a prospecter. When he realized that selling chocolate could make more money than finding gold, he built the Ghiradelli Factory in San Francisco.
- The modern day, chocolate bar (called “eating chocolate”) did not exist until the mid 19th century. Milk chocolate was made popular after Heinrich Nestle developed powdered milk intended for infants – his neighbor, Daniel Peter, had the breakthrough idea of using the powdered milk to make eating chocolate.
Once the lecture concluded, my friend Julie and I enjoyed a tasting of chocolate through the centuries. We sampled an Aztec-style chocolate drink, an 18th century chocolate tart and chocolate meringue, 20th century milk chocolate and the latest trend in chocolate – a chocolate bar made with sea salt. Personally, I loved the Aztec style drink – it was light and frothy and had the bitter taste of dark chocolate. Added spices such as cayenne pepper gave it an interesting bit of heat. I unashamedly went back for seconds.
Bonus New Thing – Cooking and “Camping” with Caroline:
A few days after my edible history lesson, I flew to Nashville to visit my sister, brother-in-law, my niece Caroline (2) and my nephew Andrew (8 months). If you recall, the New Things resolution was inspired in part by Caroline’s unrestrained joy over the simple new experiences she encounters every day. Her language is developing rapidly and she soaks up new turns of phrase everywhere she goes. For example, this weekend when I asked her “What are you doing?” Caroline’s response was - ”Playing with my toys,” she smiled, “Aunt Lacey, I could play with toys ALL DAY LONG.” (I’m pretty sure that is what you do, baby girl!).
Caroline loves to do anything that “big girls” do – cooking, cleaning her room, using a computer, climbing into bed unassisted, etc. She also has a definite maternal streak. When I paced the floor with Andrew at bedtime on Saturday, Caroline announced that it was her baby doll’s bedtime too. She then traced my steps, patting her baby’s bottom while alternating between singing “Bah Bah Black Sheep” and “Jingle Bells.” On Sunday morning, we baked muffins for breakfast. Caroline was delighted by her apron – “Do I get to wear THIS?!?!” As she stirred (and sampled) the batter, she shouted “I’m making breakfast for the family!”
On Sunday, I decided to orchestrate a Caroline “New Thing” by constructing a makeshift tent in the living room. In so doing, I learned that the urge to make the tent as big as possible doesn’t go away when you’re 25 years old. Caroline was eager to help, running on plump baby legs to bring me sheets and pillows. She then invited baby Andrew to join us under the tent. As he crawled towards us, Caroline urged him on using the nickname she created – “Come on Big Buddy! We are playing in the tent!”
Crouching under the blanketed canopy, I whispered to her - ”Caroline, we are camping in a tent in the middle of the woods.” I felt certain that – at not quite 2-and-a-half – Caroline was too young for this level of pretend-play. However, Caroline peered up at me and whispered back – “What’s that sound?” When I said that I didn’t know, she jumped up and exclaimed – “Its a BEAR!” I was yet again floored by her quickly developing mind. This was the newborn I held for the first time a little more than 2 years ago, and here we are today – making breakfast for the family, consoling sleepy babies, and seeking shelter from pretend bears in the woods! I can’t wait to watch Caroline – and Andrew – grow and learn and change in the coming year. They are a living lesson that – whether you are 2, 25, or 90 – every year should be filled with milestones!
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