Category Archives: The Amateur Chocoholic

Green Swamp, Red Can, Black Goodness

DWD Green Swamp - Start-Finish Line with Deer

I’m in not-so-sunny Florida today, resting up for my first ultra of the year – Saturday’s Dances with Dirt Green Swamp 50K in Dade City. This morning I was out at Withlacoochee Park to help set up. I love volunteering at Running Fit races; the events crew is laid back and the pace is unhurried, yet everything comes together on schedule. And after an intense week of being audited and traveling (Costa Rica – yes, it was rough), it was great to hang out with fellow runners and decompress.

It was cloudy and chilly all day, and the Michigan contingent wasn’t too pleased. But race day promises to be sunny and warmer, starting in the 40s and warming up to the low 70s. Excellent for running an ultra. Can’t wait to hit that trail. I will have to watch my step, however, and not just for roots.

Watch your step! Fire ant nests are everywhere - including the starting chute.

Fire ant nests everywhere, even the starting chute.

More about Costa Rica with my race recap next time. For now I will address a subject as dear as running to my heart, and equally important to civilization and the future of humanity. I’m speaking, of course, about coffee.

Cafe Britt - Dark Roast 2

Grocery-store stuff in Costa Rica, but good.

Costa Rica has a deserved reputation for excellent coffee; the Doka Estate’s French Roast remains my favorite. Trouble is, there’s also a lot of cheap, poorer stuff and/or bad preparation; the outstanding hotel I stayed at unfortunately served coffee I found undrinkable. So I went to their gift shop and got a dark roast to make in my room. Their only size bag was much more than I needed, but it was quite good, and I packed the rest for my trip home.

So today, as I helped set up the registration and awards area, I was asked to wash the coffee maker – a vital piece of equipment at 4:30 a.m. Saturday as the crew begins race day activities (such as sending off the 50-milers at 5:30). And in the box of coffee supplies I came across the dreaded RCOD (*).

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Does anyone else see the irony here?

Now runners love coffee as much or more than anyone else, and with all the attention serious runners pay to what else goes into their bodies, you’d think they’d be just as discriminating about their choice of coffee. Apparently not. “We’re on a budget,” I was told. “And at 4:30 we just need something hot.”

Clearly, an intervention was needed. These folks would never try to save money buying $40.00 sneakers to run their marathons in. They needed to see that drinking nasty coffee to save a few bucks per pound was just as nutty.

Synchronicity! I had the Costa Rica coffee in my running bag in the car. I retrieved it and donated it to their cause. I’ll let you know what happens, but if at least one more person awakens to what real coffee is, it’ll be more than worth it to me.

READ MORE: How to drink better coffee, and support those who care about quality, without busting your budget

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(*) RCOD = Red Can of Death. Refers to a certain distinctive red can which contains a bad-smelling, worse-tasting substance marketed as coffee. I don’t know if it actually contains floor sweepings, but many cheap brands do, according to the BBC.

Coffee Thoughts: Sharing, Preparing, and Size Matters

Coffee-related conversation overheard during the holidays:

“First I lose my sushi – now I have to share my coffee? This is Christmas? What the hell!”

DD #1 loves her coffee.

DD #1 loves her coffee.

DD #1 was lamenting the results of the Christmas Eve gift exchange, where she’d opened a do-it-yourself sushi kit, only to have it “stolen” by her equally sushi-minded cousin in exchange. Then after getting a bag of her favorite coffee on Christmas morning, I had the audacity to suggest we make some of it. (It was good, too.)

“Making coffee should be a gamble. Every time you prepare it should involve risk.”

Resistance is futile.

Resistance is futile.

With three coffee lovers around the house (DD #1, DD #2, and yours truly) for several days, there’s been increased discussion about all things coffee. So the conversation eventually turned to coffee makers, including the uber-sophisticated (and uber-priced) models at Sur La Table, and the Keurig device (yes, that thing) that is now part of the campsite up north we have with some friends. DD #2, a trained barista, shook her head and provided the comment above. Apparently she believes that making a really good cup of coffee should involve a degree of skill. Sounds a bit Luddite to me, but who am I to suggest that hard-working Americans like her be obsoleted?

“I have to use this 2-for-1 coupon. It expires today.”

While I don’t patronize this place anymore, I still own the stock. So stay thirsty, my friends!

Following last Saturday’s group run, a good friend invited me along for coffee, naming a particular Very Famous Chain Coffee Shop. I used to frequent said VFCCS, but am now spoiled by years of much superior coffee. I offered to take him to a different place that uses excellent local roasts, but he wanted to use the coupon, so I acquiesced.

I ordered a peppermint mocha. After all, how can anyone screw up a peppermint mocha? Well, this place succeeded. The coffee was so over-roasted that I found it undrinkable. Now I am not in the least ungrateful – I really appreciated his gesture, and I’m looking forward to treating him to some much better coffee.

And finally, there’s these words of wisdom I found on the Internet recently:

Take the issue of status…what should you do to get more of it? In a study led by David DuBois of HEC Paris, people who were observed choosing large coffees, pizzas, and smoothies were rated by others as having higher status…To take it one step further, surround yourself with the trappings of the salary and lifestyle you want, not the one you have.

This excerpt from the article is about trying to get noticed in the office and improving your “status” with your co-workers. Apparently the tried-and-true approaches, like speaking up, setting goals, and accepting greater responsibility, is second-rate compared to the size of your stuff. So here’s my tip to you all for getting ahead in 2014: Supersize it! 

On his way to the top! (If he doesn't explode first.)

On his way to the top, if he doesn’t explode first. Source: Oddity Mall. (Click to go there.)

Toh-Fooey

QUESTION FOR YOU ALL. How many of you have a food philosophy similar to the following:

I want to eat better. I won’t give up chocolate.

No problem. The two statements aren’t mutually exclusive. Chocolate is one of those rare gifts, like sex and anything by Monty Python, that both bring us pleasure and are good for us. Yet despite its beneficial effects and nutrients, it contains a fair amount of saturated fat and sugar. So it is at least theoretically possible that there is such a thing as ‘too much chocolate’ – at least in any given 24-hour period.

Not sure chocolate and Spam work together. Maybe Spam, Spam, Spam, chocolate and Spam...

Not sure chocolate and Spam work together. Maybe Spam, Spam, Spam, chocolate and Spam…

How do we get past this dilemma? Could one get the goodness of chocolate into something less fattening and even more nutritious? Well-meaning people have been trying to solve this problem for a long time, and yesterday I tried out the latest attempt from champion ultrarunner and vegan Scott Jurek.

In Scott’s book Eat and Run, which I am currently reading, he includes a number of his favorite recipes. I’ve tried two so far. One is his vegan chili, which is a winner and which I will write more about shortly. The second is called “Carob Chia Pudding” although you can substitute cocoa powder and make “Cocoa Chia Pudding.” This is what I did, since I stand firmly behind Al Sicherman’s dictum that, ‘lips that touch carob don’t touch mine.’

There are several keys to this faux-chocolate dessert. The first is to use silken tofu as the base in place of cream, butter, and eggs. Maple syrup serves as the sweetener, and chia seeds provide a nutritional boost and thicken the pudding. Add cocoa powder and a touch of miso, toss it all in the blender, and you’re done.

I can hear you! I agree. Meh.

I can hear you! I agree. Meh.

The good news first. The texture was very similar to pudding – nice and creamy, and the Special Dark cocoa powder gave it a strong, though bitter, chocolate taste foundation. Unfortunately, the rest of the ingredients didn’t contribute much. And the chia seeds didn’t fully gel, so the pudding was slightly crunchy, although pre-soaking should fix that. No style points for color, either.

Okay, so by itself it’s not a keeper. What if we tossed in some fruit? That would add some natural sweetness.

Tofu cocoa pudding 2

Still not right. But after some more thought and experimentation, I believe I found the right combination of additions to make it work:

Got it! Now where did I put the whipped cream...

Got it! Now where did I put the whipped cream?

So there you have it – the way to incorporate tofu and chia seeds into a good-tasting, nutritious dessert. Or you could just make Jell-O brand with skim milk. Or you could do what I did after my Sunday bike ride and visit the Coffee House Creamery for this:

Winner! Espresso shake with Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream.

Winner! Espresso shake with Chocolate Moose Tracks ice cream.

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Note: This was supposed to be a post for my new blog, but I’m still finishing its design and didn’t want to wait. So what the hell.

The Amateur Chocoholic Reviews: Madecasse 80% Chocolate Bar

Madecasse 80 percent - front wrapper“AT MADECASSE we pay farmers a fair price for their cocoa. Then we do something unheard of. We make our chocolate in Madagascar. This creates 4 TIMES the impact of fair trade cocoa.”

Where I got it: Whole Foods, Ann Arbor MI
Price: $4.99 for 2.64 oz. (75g)
Cocoa percentage: 80%
Website:  http://www.madecasse.com
Reviewed by: T.A.C. (Jeff)  and Rachel (D.o.T.A.C.)

While signing over my paycheck at Whole Foods in exchange for lunch, I caught sight of this bar at the checkout counter. I am usually immune to the siren call of such things, but dark chocolate is the exception. And hey, how can I resist helping cocoa farmers four times more?

Story (from the website):

The founders of Madecasse were Peace Corps volunteers in Madagascar, who “fell in love with the country and people and wanted to do more,” and settled on making chocolate, with an extra twist. Africa grows the majority of the world’s cocoa, but very little (the site says less than one percent) is made into chocolate there, so they decided to go “bean-to-bar in Madagascar,” as the wrapper says.

“Our products represent that personal connection to the island,” the site says, “a deeper understanding of the rich and complex flavors hidden inside the varieties of cocoa, vanilla and peppercorns found exclusively in Madagascar. The result is unique, satisfying products unlike anything you’ve tasted before.” (The chocolate bar does not contain any actual vanilla or peppercorns, so I’m assuming the flavor notes are picked up from the soil.)

MORE: How Chocolate Gets Its Taste (from The Chocolate Life blog)

Appearance:

Madecasse 80 percent - back wrapperThe simple, rustic-looking wrapper with appealing green-on-cream easily caught my eye. An interesting feature of this wrapper is that it opens like an envelope, so you don’t need to tear it apart. The gold foil inside wrapper added a touch of elegance.

The chocolate has a subdued sheen, and a cocoa pod is stamped into each of the individual sections.

Texture:

A slow but even melt in the mouth that releases the intense flavor gradually (a good thing). Very smooth mouthfeel.

Flavor:

The wrapper claims “strong and complex” and the chocolate lives up to it. With an 80% cocoa content I expected, and got, an intense cocoa flavor. Sucking on a section allowed me to taste all the various flavors, while chewing one brought out the mild sweetness primarily. I am not sure which I prefer. I got a hint of vanilla as promised, but could not pick up any “peppercorny” flavors. I also got an intense fruitiness which ended in an almost sour aftertaste. I believe many people will enjoy this (and Rachel did), but I personally do not.

The Bottom Line

Jeff’s Rating:……..★★★☆☆ (3 out of 5 stars)
Rachel’s Rating:…★★★★☆ (4 out of 5 stars)

This is a very smooth and intensely flavored chocolate, as promised. If you prefer a “brighter” flavor profile, by all means give this bar a try. I give it three stars only due to personal taste preference, not to any flaws in the chocolate.

The maker’s approach to helping African farmers is laudable, and if that means a lot to you, that’s another reason to try this brand. The more support we can give to fair trade practices, the better, as far as I’m concerned.

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NOTE: The Amateur Chocoholic (a.k.a. “T.A.C.”) is my new moniker for such reviews. (This replaces the “Quickie Chocolate Reviews” postings.)

Did you like this review? How can it be made better? Would you like to see more? Let me know.