Valentine's is a day for hearts, flowers, cards, love - and chocolate.
It's a wonder, really, how this holiday of grandiloquent affection has evolved to include, not just romantic love, but religious or spiritual love, love for family, love for friends, love for humanity, etc. There are many different flavors, just like chocolate.
As I sit down at the kitchen table to ponder the age-old question, "What is love?" I dunk a homemade oatmeal chocolate-chip cookie into a coffee mug full of 2 percent cow's milk. Then it hits me: the connection between love and chocolate.
Hmmm, I think. My serotonin levels are rising and my blood pressure is dropping from the cocoa I ingest. Is love found in chocolate? Perhaps not, although some may beg to differ.
According to Wikipedia.org, "A study reported by the (British Broadcasting Corp.) indicated that melting chocolate in one's mouth produced an increase in brain activity and heart rate that was more intense than that associated with passionate kissing, and also lasted four times as long after the activity had ended."
No doubt. What we eat affects our hormone levels and mood, which in turn influences our ability or desire to love, among other things.
Dr. Penny Kris-Etherton, a professor of nutrition at Penn State, is the lead author of a paper that contends consuming flavonoid-rich tea or chocolate in moderation may reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease. According to www.chocolate.org/health, Kris-Etherton says, "Having a chocolate cookie that also contains fruit and nuts along with the tea, if consumed in moderation, can be a heart healthy snack."
Dark chocolate also was recently promoted for its health benefits.
Whether or not you believe in chocolate's health benefits, it wouldn't hurt to indulge a little. Let's make some heavy analogies between types of love and types of chocolate.
Religious love is like a chocolate fondue - great for social occasions and congregating, with many choices of what to fondue: fruit, cake, nuts, etc. Diversity in religious, philosophical or spiritual practices enriches our search for meaning. It gives us more to think about, more to choose from. Fondue is similar; it helps us get a taste of everything, to best determine our chocolate path. The social aspect of a fondue party also helps us appreciate the chocolate preferences of others.
LOVE FOR HUMANITY
Love for humanity is like a chocolate cluster - diverse, with a hint of mystery. The Alaskan Fudge Co. sells a wide variety of clusters, appropriately named after the paws of many native animals - brown bear, polar bear, grizzly bear, timberwolf, Arctic wolf, gray wolf, porcupine, Arctic hare, silver fox, lynx to name a few.
I prefer simple, no-thrills peanut clusters myself. But then again, I wouldn't mind sampling the curious Lynx Paws, which have pecans.
LOVE FOR EARTH
Love for the Earth, environment or nature is like a mud pie - simple, crumbly, down to Earth, gritty and perplexing.
LOVE FOR SELF
Love for self is like a decadent chocolate body lotion - indulgent and gratifying, without the calories.
The Merry Chocoholic's online store offers calorie-free chocolate "whipped cream" with aloe. Other scents include white chocolate mousse, chocolate chip cookie or brownie delight. Edible? I don't think so.
But www.momsbudget.com includes a recipe for an edible chocolate sauce body lotion: 2 tablespoons glycerin, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder and 1 tablespoon cocoa butter. But be careful; this recipe may stain the sheets!
Romantic love is like a chocolate truffle - rich, creamy, intense, unpredictable, fleeting, passionate and expensive.
At www.chocolate.com, one can purchase a 10-ounce box of dark chocolate classic truffles for $26. Www.chocolategarden.com offers a 36-truffle assortment for $99. And at Chocolatetruffles.com, you can choose your own 50-piece assortment for $51.95.
When I asked my boyfriend what type of chocolate he associated romantic love with, his quick response was milk chocolate, because it's smooth and creamy, he said.
After more thought, he said, "Expensive chocolate?"
I chuckled. My thoughts exactly. What better way to show your significant other you care than through spending money - lots of money - on a delicacy?
It says, "I love you so much, I'm willing to invest in your future weight gain."
Truffles, the quintessential chocolate of V-Day, were originally made with ganache, a whipped filling of chocolate and cream, shaped by hand into balls and covered in cocoa powder.
Truffles also can be made with a variety of fillings, such as caramel, nuts or nougat, a candy made from sugar or honey, nuts and egg whites.
To make a harder ganache, bakers simply use more chocolate than cream.
According to www.cookingforengineers.com, "A ratio of about 2 to 1 of chocolate to cream by mass will yield a dense ganache appropriate for making truffles."
Personally, I prefer a harder center. It's less messy. There's nothing worse than biting into a truffle and having the insides goo-out all over your lap. Not pretty.
Luckily, this year I will not have to eat a whole box of truffles by myself. I told my boyfriend last week, "I don't want any chocolate for Valentine's Day." My reasons were purely to avoid temptation.
He just smiled and said, "OK." He understood and was probably thankful, as he would have helped me eat anything he brought home.
Love for family is like a German chocolate cake - many layers, nutty, frosted, filling and with a strong history.
My parents aren't German. My mother's father's stepfather was German, but I don't think that counts.
And actually, I don't think we ever made a German chocolate cake at our house - ever. But every time I eat one, I think of a German "home," if I had one, and my German roots, if I had them.
When asked if she liked German chocolate cake, my mother replied, "Yeah, of course. It's chocolate, for heaven's sake."
German chocolate cake is even the favored birthday cake by three out of 15 regular employees in the Juneau Empire's newsroom.
"It's the best of the chocolate cakes," said one page designer. "It's sweet, and it's got great frosting."
Although his family history is complicated, the designer said he grew up on the cake due to his German background.
And according to www.kitchenproject.com, German chocolate cake also has an interesting history. The first recipe appeared in 1957 in a Dallas, Texas, newspaper.
According to Patricia Riso, a spokeswoman for Kraft Foods, the 1957 recipe used German's brand of chocolate bar, which was developed in 1852 by an Englishman named Sam German, for Baker's Chocolate Co.
Fifty years is a long time, considering I was born in 1982. But for my parents, the first German chocolate cake recipe appeared only 15 years after their birth.
LOVE FOR A FRIEND
Friendship love is like a tub of Ben and Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream - chilling, thick, lumpy, chunky, funny, helpful and comforting.
It's a wonder how good friends are always there, no matter where you are in life or how much time you don't have to spend with them, much like Ben and Jerry's.
I received a call from one of my girlfriends several weeks ago. She was calling to talk and check in. I was busy with a project for my daughter's preschool and didn't have time to talk. I still haven't called my friend back.
A recent text message from another girlfriend, whose daughter will be 3 months old on Feb. 23, said, "Life is beau!" I can only assume - since I did not respond to her text - she was referring to her beautiful daughter.
I am a horrible friend. I know this. Perhaps I'm in need of a little chocolate chip cookie dough pow-wow with my closest friends. ... Or maybe I should just save time by just mailing them a tub.
All in all, chocolate, like life and love, has its positives and negatives, its ups and downs. Perhaps the most important V-Day treat isn't the gifts, cards, candy, balloons - or even the chocolate - although it's up there.
V-Day helps us remember the nature of how and who we love. Loving, like making a delicate chocolate soufflé, is a process. It takes time, patience and understanding, and you learn something new each time you make it.
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at firstname.lastname@example.org.