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The Sweetest Thing

Things lately making me especially happy: a new book, discovered at random at the library (Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch); a good run; a new pair of summer shoes; the imminent return of Big Love; learning the Greek name for this blog is “kouzina nicolina”; and a renaissance of my love for chocolate.

Or, more specifically, Scharffenberger.

When I first had a chocolate from the Berkeley-based company, I wasn’t immediately enthralled. I found it too dark, if that’s possible, and almost too bitter. Though I’m coming to really appreciate dark chocolate, for most of my life I’ve been a milk chocolate kind of girl with a real humdrum penchant for Trader Joe’s “pound plus” milk chocolate bars.

But something happened this week and I’ve revised my opinion. I’m saying “yes” to Scharffenberger. I’m saying “yes” to dark chocolate. And I’m saying “yes” to sweets in general. For you see, I’ve learned that with a cup of green tea, a little square of dark, dark chocolate is a small revelation of yum — and don’t even get me started on the milk chocolate. When I think of all the chocolate-eating I’ve missed out on because I was so foolishly averse, I think also that I must make up for lost time.

As I’ve probably noted before, I lean more toward the salty when I want to indulge myself. When I’m craving something a little bad-for-me, I always, always reach for the bag of Kettle Chips (salt and pepper, natch) that permanently reside in my pantry. I love cheese. Sweets — though my recent baking frenzy may belie this — are not typically my favorite, though j’adore le chocolat, bien sur. It’s just not always what I want.

Yet I remember certain childhood moments with perfect clarity, though they were so long ago: tucking up in bed on a rainy March afternoon at the start of spring vacation, with a bar of chocolate and a stack of Tintin books [note: interesting article in last week’s New Yorker on the Belgian artist Hergé and his subject]. Or digging through a bucket of Halloween candy in search of a Mounds bar because I loved so the way the dark chocolate paired with the overly sweet coconut. Or swiping a spoonful of my brother’s favorite peanut-butter-chocolate ice cream.

Somewhere along the way I must have misplaced my desire for sweets. Well, that’s not quite accurate: I still like to eat them, but I am not greedy for them in the way I was. I love to bake them, love the way a lush and heavy chocolate cake smells when it’s first taken out of the oven steaming hot and crackling along the edges, but I’m pretty satiated after a small piece. But then what to do with the rest of it?

I shall strive to change that, calories be damned. I refuse to miss out on this wonderfully sweet and chocolaty world any longer. I’ll start with the cookies I will make tonight [for guests! And maybe also for myself].

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, adapted from the Better Home and Gardens Cookbook

I make these when I’m sick, or when it’s GREY ALWAYS GREY outside, as it’s been here in San Francisco for the past eight days (not that I’m counting, ahem). They have enough sugar to ease me back into the dessert aisle, but yet still feel ‘healthy’ because of the oats.

3/4 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl cream shortening, brown sugar and white sugar. Add eggs and vanilla and mix thoroughly.

Combine the baking soda, baking powder, salt and flour and stir into creamed mixture. Add the oats and chocolate chips, and stir until well blended.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes.

UPDATE: The sun is out! The cookies will taste just as good, though, I bet.

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