“There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a bizarre fascination with the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The film is full tilt whimsy, and for those of you who really know me, you know that whimsy is my single favorite word in the English dictionary.
Something about that film that completely mesmerized me, and every time, I was left longing to own my own chocolate factory. The only problem is I’ve always hated eating chocolate (that, and I have no idea how to go about hiring Oompa Loompas).Fruity, taffy, gummy candy? Yes, sir! Peanut butter perfection? Absolutely! But chocolate, particularly milk chocolate, does nothing to tickle my taste buds. One year, during a depressing period of my existence, my dad (under the advice of my mother) decided to forgo the customary bouquet of flowers he sends me on Valentine’s Day and opted instead to send a 5-tier tower of chocolate candy from Harry and David. I cried, then gave it all to my roommate. Did I mention this was a sad period of my existence?
The nagging feeling to make my own candy finally gave way after a viewing of Willy Wonka a few years ago. I found a recipe for dark chocolate truffles, and went to town. I whipped up a couple of batches, tasted one to make sure it wasn’t poison, then gave the rest away. That is when I discovered the following:
- Making your own candy takes a lot of time and patience.
- Melted chocolate is aesthetically beautiful. Seriously. I just like the way it looks melted.
- People like when you give them homemade chocolate. Instant joy!
At that moment, my Wonka itch had been scratched, but every now and again, I would look up a recipe and play with chocolate. It wasn’t until recently that I unearthed a new discovery about the art of making chocolate. I like to call it the Wonka Method to dealing with post-traumatic stress. You see, a weird thing happened to me a few weeks ago. I was walking down the street near my office, texting hilarious nonsense with a friend, when I suddenly felt a powerful force knock me to the ground from behind. When I say a powerful force, I’m talking an NFL tackle level of force, square on my upper back. It knocked the wind out of me, and as I caught my breath, I looked back to see a man darting away suspiciously. I can only guess it was him, and I can only guess that he was trying to steal my purse and/or Iphone. Little did he know that my biological response to being threatened is to clutch my material possessions instead of protecting my own person. I’m not kidding when I say that all of my weight fell on my right hand because my left hand refused to let go of an Iphone that should have most-definitely flew out of my hands as I crumpled to the ground. Priorities, people! Anyways, after a couple of people helped me up, and I processed what had just happened, I did what any normal person would do—I finished my text to my friend. Then, like a child who doesn’t cry until a full minute after getting an “owie”, the adrenaline wore off and I had an epic fit of hysterics. Not only could I not catch my breath, but also I was confused and literally could not stop sobbing. It wasn’t that I was emotionally upset, after all he didn’t succeed in stealing anything, but my body was having a reaction all on its own. My friend, confused by my string of texts that had clearly shifted in tone, called to help me calm down. I took a few minutes to compose myself, then I continued on towards the grocery store as if nothing weird had just happened to me.
But let’s get back to chocolate, shall we? Stress can do some interesting things to your body, and over the course of the following days, I noticed that despite me feeling completely over my brush with violence, I still had a lot of trouble breathing. My rib cage felt like it was too small for my lungs, like two pit-bulls that had outgrown their kennels. It seemed as though the most innocuous irritating thing would cause my entire chest to tighten up and restrict my breathing. So annoying. I tried stretching and breathing exercises. I tried anti-inflammatory medicines and muscle relaxers (which totally work but make me too sleepy to function). Even something like dancing, which usually calms me down, was making me so anxious and out of breath. The only thing that seemed to calm me down was to focus my energy on a task that required patience and stillness. In this case, that task was making chocolate. I was planning on making a batch for an upcoming party, but I noticed that the act of melting chocolate and caramelizing sugar had a noticeably Zen effect on me. When I was finished, my breath was controlled, I was relaxed and I was completely stoked with my culinary creations. I had found Nirvana and it was made up of Guittard dark-chocolate chips (63% cocoa, natch). I know it sounds ridiculous and nonsensical, but it completely de-stresses me to the point where I have been obsessively making dark chocolate truffles for the past two weeks. At this point, most of my anxiety seems to be gradually fading away, but what has been left in its wake is a new hobby, and what better hobby than one that results in my friends getting to eat free chocolate candy (while I’ve now developed a taste for dark chocolate, I still adhere to the rule of only trying one per batch to keep my weight-loss on track. It’s all about moderation!).
My roommate is a trained pastry chef, so she is enabling my recent addiction, loaning me culinary text books and baking supplies. So far, I’ve experimented with sea-salted caramel, Bailey’s Irish Cream, Kahlua and coffee, and my most exciting batch—cayenne pepper with chili powder. Yum! I’m not sharing this with you in the hopes that you too will discover the zen-like properties of making chocolate, but instead, I hope that it inspires you to find the thing that relaxes you and to embrace it. It is too easy these days to find ourselves rushing around trying to conquer life,that we don’t realize how beneficial it is to slow down and just be at peace in a single moment. Sometimes the only way to get over a stressful experience, is to slow down and allow your body to sync up with your mind. And if you can’t find that thing that gives you peace? Well, science shows that eating chocolate causes your brain to release that feel-good chemical, serotonin, and it just so happens I have a few truffles for you to try.