dessert, Gerald, musings, Shanghai

Chalk A Lot

09.21.09 | 4 Comments

The summer before I started high school, I was assigned my very first summer reading list. On it was Dickens’ Great Expectations. I knew reading that book was going to be an epic battle of the will when, on the first page, I encountered the word ‘vittles.’ I asked my dad what it meant. He told me it was a slangy way of saying ‘victuals.’ Victuals?

Those were the most painful few hundred pages of my life. I hated the book so much that to this day, nine years later, I still refuse to read Dickens. I realize it’s silly and that Dickens is probably considered a classic author for a reason, but I guess it’s a case of literary PTSD. Frankly, I blame the teachers who made that list, because how many non-prodigal fourteen-year olds are going to understand and enjoy Charles Dickens?

That’s the problem of introducing great works of literature before the readers are mature. This reminds me of my 7th grade Humanities class, taught by Mr. Jacobs, whom I still consider one of my all-time favorite teachers. (I wish I knew where he was so I could tell him that). But Mr. Jacobs perhaps made a wee mistake in asking a classroom of twelve-year olds to read Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

I actually did pretty well with it and enjoyed it, but, well, there were other people in the class. So what does Metamorphosis have to do with a food/China blog? You see, friends, something is rotten in the state of Huzhou. I am going through some strange, emotionally disfiguring metamorphosis that I can only hope will not end with me as a cockroach.

You see, I—I—oh god. Let me start at the beginning.

Devoted readers know that as a child, I was a very picky eater but branched out with age. There have been three victual dislikes that have stuck with me: coffee, dill, and chocolate. People are always appalled when I say I don’t like chocolate. Birthday parties have been hard since I (came to) love cake, but many cakes are chocolate. Halloween was a sad time, as more than 50% of my candy was apprehended my mother and brother, since they liked chocolate.

Over the years, I tried to like chocolate. I remember peeling the gold foil off of Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) and taking tiny nibbles from the disk, wanting to like the taste of something so pretty. I remember taking bites of tootsie rolls and Snickers and Three Musketeers bars hoping I could finally discover the espoused magnificence of chocolate. But I couldn’t get past two bites of it in any form. It was really the aftertaste that turned me off, and the bitterness is probably the same reason for my coffee aversion.

Eventually, I accepted my choco-aversion and enjoyed other sweets. When I got into baking, I found that baking chocolate things was a good way for me to satisfy my baking urges and not eat at least half the batch of whatever goody by myself (muahahaha). My friends have always made fun of me for hating chocolate. I hear “All women like chocolate” from a lot of men.

But something…something is happening. You see, in the past few months, I have discovered that I…I…I don’t hate chocolate anymore!

Folks, this is monumental. Huge. Sensational. It’s bigger than Obama and healthcare and “You lie!” and Brad and Angie. I can’t really believe it. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I like chocolate or particularly desire it (yet). But my tastes have slowly been changing. And it’s kinda freaking me out.

How did this happen? It has been about nine months in the making, when I think about it. I think the first blow came over Spring Festival while I was traveling with Gerald. Gerald is a certified chocoholic. Every night (really—Every. Night.) sir Gerald would buy a bag of Dove chocolates and nibble his way through all of it.. Somehow, I was influenced by the daily presence of Dove and decided that I would try some white chocolate, because that’s not really chocolate.

Mistake! White chocolate is glorious. And for a while, I stuck with white chocolate. Then one day, I bought some regular chocolate for one of my classes to give away as a prize. I had some left over, and it stayed in my apartment. A while later there was a night when I got REALLY HUNGRY. Like, clawing at the walls hunger. I get this a lot, actually. My blood sugar drops quickly and sharply. But I don’t keep snacks around because if I did, I would constantly be eating and not fit in my pants, which is a problem since my legs are at least one-third longer than any pair of pants sold in China.

That night of wall-clawing hunger, though, it was an emergency. It was the summer holiday, so the convenience stores around campus were conveniently closed. School is quite far from any sort of snack-selling establishment, and it was late. I remembered the chocolate. I needed calories, and short of spooning flour or sugar straight from the bags into my mouth, the chocolate was the only thing I had. So I ate some chocolate. And I was surprised to find it wasn’t half bad. I wouldn’t qualify it as good, but nor would I qualify it as bad.


A month or so later, I made someone a batch of chocolate chip cookies. And who can resist cookie batter? It was fairly easy to eat around most of the chocolate, but the pieces were small enough that it was a hassle. So I got a few bits of chocolate in my mouth, and it wasn’t the repulsive experience it had been in the past. But then the cookies baked. And who can resist freshly baked cookies? I needed one. Eating around the chocolate would prove impossible. But me wanted cookies. I ate one. Hm. That wasn’t so bad.

So I ate another one.


The final blow came this past weekend. To maintain my rather tenuous hold on sanity, I went to Shanghai. Nellie was having a joint birthday party with three other friends and was kind enough to invite me along. So Saturday night I found myself at a big party and, before I knew it, staring at two huge chocolate cakes.

And I really wanted cake. Who can resist birthday cake? Not I, especially since there had been nachos and French fries and chips with cheese dip at the bar (and, you know, I sort of, planted myself at the bar) and I needed to balance my sweet/savory ratio. And since chocolate hadn’t seemed so bad lately, well, what the hell! Pass me a slice!

It was some of the richest chocolate cake around. Obviously I don’t have an extensive chocolate cake resume, but I know cakes. And the fact that the two people I was talking to couldn’t finish their slices for the cake’s richness, I can deduce it was high on the chocolate scale. But you know what? I finished my small piece. And the remaining half-piece of one of my new friends.


Again, I didn’t love the cake. It was really chocolate-y. But I didn’t hate it. It was pleasantly tolerable. Though if faced with the choice between chocolate or non-chocolate cake/cookies/ice cream/whatever, I would still choose the non-chocolate item.

But throw and apple in my back because I may as well have turned into a cockroach. I can’t believe it either. It’s a major identity crisis over here at Plate of Wander. This is bigger than the day I decided to stop writing ellis with a capital ‘e.’ If I am not a chocolate-hater, what AM I? How do I know I don’t actually love coffee? What if my hair is straight? What if I like football? What if I’m a male republican? OH GOD, WHAT IF I RESENT SARCASTIC PEOPLE? AND WHAT IF I LOVE CAPITAL LETTERS?

This is all Charles Dickens’ fault.




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