Written by Jimmie Epling   

Everything Is Better with Chocolate!

By Jimmie Epling

There is some truth to the saying, “everything is better with chocolate.”  Charles Dickens it seems felt the same way when he said, "there is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate."  At the libraries of the Darlington County Library System, you have a friend with chocolate, literally and figuratively, especially this month. 

Did you know February is National Chocolate Lovers’ Month?  No?  Then do not worry because the month is far from over.  You still have plenty of time to indulge in some chocolate delights, figuratively speaking, through the books and other items that can be found at the Darlington County Library System.  We have something for all ages, including fiction and nonfiction.  You can learn about chocolate’s history, health benefits, how it’s made, and recipes.  There are even fun picture books for young chocolate lovers in your life.  A quick search of out catalog at www.darlington-lib.org revealed over 150 items related to chocolate in our Library and over 500 items available for you to borrow from other libraries in the consortium.          

What brought about my discovery of National Chocolate Lovers’ Month?  Last week, Darlington Branch Children’s Librarian Liz Davis created chocolate pancakes in her after school “Kids Cook” program and again with her teen group.    Every month, she cooks up something interesting.  This month’s venture into the culinary arts took inspiration came from February being National Chocolate Lovers’ Month.  It should not come as a surprise to anyone that there is such a celebration in February (did you know it is also canned food, cherry, grapefruit, snack food, potato, and hot breakfast month?  All are somewhat less appealing to my taste buds to celebrate).  It only makes sense since Valentine’s Day was this past Saturday and chocolate candy is the favored gift, just behind roses.  I have to sadly report I cannot attest to how good the chocolate pancakes tasted, as there were no leftovers.  Maybe no leftovers are testament to how good they were, especially if they had a little chocolate syrup on them.   

During the program the teens learned that putting chocolate in pancakes is a rather recent idea.  The history of chocolate began in ancient Central America around 1900 BC.  For the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecs, chocolate was an invigorating drink possessed of mystical and spiritual qualities that was reserved for rulers, warriors, priests and nobles at sacred ceremonies.  The Spanish conquerors returned to Europe with it, adding sugar and sometimes cinnamon, where it first became popular with royalty.  In the 1800s, innovative processes were used to turn chocolate a fine powder that could be mixed with liquids and other ingredients and poured into molds and solidified.  Family-owned companies, such as Cadbury, Mars and Hershey, used these processes to turn chocolate into an inexpensive treat in the 20th century.  If you would like to learn more, let Paul Richardson take you on a trip “around the world in search of chocolate” with his book “Indulgence.”  Explore with him the historical, cultural, gastronomic, and even political impact of chocolate on the world.

So what can you whip up with chocolate?  Get started with Kate Shirazi’s “Chocolate Magic: Devilishly Decadent Recipes,” a collection of easy, no-nonsense recipes that are ideal for novice cooks.  Learn how to make chocolate truffles, tarts, breads, biscuits, puddings, and even milkshakes.  You can follow it up with “Death by Chocolate: the Last Word on a Consuming Passion” by Marcel Desaulniers.  Here you will discover seductively delicious cakes, elegant ice creams, lustrously silky sauces, delectable truffles, divine wafers, and unbelievably amazing brownies.  You may finish you introduction to the culinary delights of chocolate with the 60 down home recipes to be found the book, “Southern Living Incredible Chocolate Recipes.

There is possibly no better cookie in the world than the chocolate chip cookie, in my opinion.  Gwen Steege went on a “Search for the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie” and discovered over 100 special recipes for this traditional favorite.  There are inventive variations of the original recipe that include macadamia nuts, Amaretto, apricots, pumpkin, coconut, maple syrup, granola, and peanut butter.  There is even one that includes of all things, potato chips!  I’m not sure I am ready for a potato laced chocolate chip cookie.

Just as with cookies and chocolate, arguably cakes are just better with chocolate.  Anne Byrn’s book, “Chocolate: From the Cake Mix Doctor,” makes the point as she marries cake mixes with chocolate in 150 easy recipes.  There are recipes for layer, sheet, and pound cakes.  And what would a cake be without frosting?  She includes 38 frosting, filling, and glaze recipes to intensify the flavor of each cake. 

Those who truly want to indulge their passion for chocolate all year long will want to borrow “365 Great Chocolate Desserts” by Natalie Haughton.  Every day you can savor a new chocolate indulgence from this collection of brownie, fudge, cheesecake, pie, cake, tart, pudding, and other chocolaty delights. 

Feeling guilty about the temptation to indulge your love of chocolate?  Do not worry.  Look at it this way, “chocolate comes from cocoa, which comes from a tree.  That makes it plant.  Therefore, chocolate counts as salad.”  OK, maybe that is a bit of a stretch.  But all is not lost chocolate lovers as you can learn how to “Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight.”  According to Will Clower, “new science proves you should eat chocolate every day.”  He dispels the myth that chocolate is just a “junk food" by revealing how this succulent food contains healthy antioxidants that can actually help you lose weight!  “‘nough said, I’m with on this one Will!  Those who enjoy a vegan lifestyle do not have to forego chocolate according to Fran Costigan in her book “Vegan Chocolate: Unapologetically Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts.”  She has brought together for the first time recipes for chocolate cakes, brownies, truffles, puddings, and ice creams that are dairy-free, organic, fair-trade, and sublime.

During National Chocolate Lovers’ Month, you should keep in mind a quote from that wonderful, mythical chef, Betty Crocker, “and above all...think chocolate!”  I might also add, think of the Darlington County Library System the next time you need a chocolate fix.  You will always find a new way of indulging your love of chocolate through what the Library has to offer!  

February 16, 2015