Sweetness Personified


 You can learn a lot about a person by looking at their candy profile.

Take the Cute Gardener for instance. In life he is rather pointed about what he ingests and what he surrounds himself with. He is balanced and non-indulgent. He likes to maintain a cadre of regularly cherished things that have been tried and are true and give him delight. This lends itself to his cabinet of specialty bourbon, his repetitive varieties of produce in the garden, and his love of high caliber dark chocolate and cacao nibs. Waxy grocery store chocolate will never find its way into his grocery cart and he can smell upon entering a candy boutique whether they are using cheap ingredients or not. For him, his candy profile is direct but not simple, narrowly fixated in high class, not overly fatty and slightly bitter, much like him.

Then there was my Grandmother Jeanne. Her home throughout my childhood always maintained the presence of floral shaped crystal dishes on every tabletop in the living room or den that held candy. The candies were mostly hard, translucent and bright like glassy jewels. Not much more than colored sugar individually wrapped in noisy cellophane (impossible to sneak by my greedy little hands without waking the whole household). On Sundays after church she would give us butterscotch gems from her pocket for the car ride home, which she had already enjoyed herself, sucking on one piece slowly during the psalms and hymns. Startlingly, when I saw a psychic in my late 30s, he mentioned the presence of a black-haired woman who watched over me in heaven, who was perpetually taking hard candies from her apron to stick between her pink Max Factor lips and I knew this was Jeanne. She was clear, super sweet, savoring of life and slightly rigid, just like her ever-present candies. She was also a prolific oil painter, which complemented her desire to have bowls as palettes holding the various hues of sweets in her immediate environment.

For me, candy has become an occasional event embraced with gusto. I am more in touch with the inviting in of joy and pleasure into my life as a regular occurrence yet as an adult who has learned that balance is the key to all things, for a hedonist like me, this means I need to be careful with abundance. Whether we are talking about my hips, my relationships, or my well being … I have accumulated the habits of one who knows that delving into too much of a good thing isn’t always the best thing for me. So my relationship with candy is a special thing, like going out to dinner for my birthday, which I set up and plan for in advance and enjoy for a brief moment in time.

Three or four times a year, I get the itch to visit Sugarfina, which, as I have written about before, offers a treasure chest of delights to a girl like me. When I enter the clear glass jewelry box in Beverly Hills that is its home, I feel like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. And in fact, the walls of this illustrious candy palace are indeed the same shade of Tiffany blue. Yes, the tiny clear boxes only hold 5-20 small candies per each. Yes, those boxes range anywhere from $7 to $12 a piece. I know that is an exorbitant amount to spend on candy. But I don’t care because it is a rare and celebrated encounter. There are candies from all over the world, chosen for their unique beauty and attributes, and I like to dabble in such a broad selection. As for my sugar profile, what this says about me, is that when I am being bad I want to be bad with only the utmost quality of sin and I am willing to pay big bucks for it so that I don’t take advantage of my treats or treat the occasion as if it is something that can become a regular thing. These are all careful barriers I put up between me and my love of the sugar rush to ensure I appreciate it while it lasts but am cautious not to partake of all too often.

As for my actual choices—they range. They spotlight my fickleness, spontaneity and sense of adventure. They also denote other smaller idiosyncrasies of my personality and tastes such as a constant desire to try new things. On my most recent visit I stocked up on Jamaican Rum Snowballs and Scotch Cordials-each filled with real liquor to satisfy my current love of dessert and booze combinations like the cocktails Brandy Alexander and White Russian. A box of matcha covered caramels matches my interest in traditional Chinese medicine and the healing elixir of green tea. A cube of dinosaur egg-reminiscent Dionysus Dark Chocolate Covered Walnuts piques the lover of Greek god/goddess culture in me with its fortifying nuts imported from the place that boasts the birth of knowledge and my inner mourning for the lost library of Alexandria.The soft outer layer of the Toffee Peanut Butter Truffles reminds me of the basic flour and peanut butter balls stuck in the center with an M&M that I used to make in preschool. It was a primal snack made with messy fingers and fun and now this adult version comes stuck in the middle with surprising bits of chewy gourmet toffee. The Acai Dark Chocolate Covered Blueberries make me feel as if I am incorporating superfoods into my decadence and along with the Dark Chocolate Covered Bananas, fulfill my cravings for small, sweet bites to accompany my morning or afternoon tea time.

It is very ceremonial how I set up these beautiful little boxes under the coffee table vowing to have one piece a day until they are gone. Then the boxes get relegated to the LEGO collection where they become transparent containers to separate parts. In actuality, what ends up happening is that I use this functional need for the LEGOs as an excuse to make the candies disappear a little more quickly than intended and my Sugarfina affair slowly dissipates over the course of a week or two.

And then I become a normal human again, content to ignore the leftover Mounds bars in the hallway bowl leftover from Halloween.

Dessert’s Fickle Diatribe

IMG_0844Gusto’s Heavenly Coconut Gelato Pie

I have been banned from ordering dessert at restaurants for a while.

This is mainly because the same thing always happens.

The Cute Gardener and I will go out and eat a stellar meal. In my sweet tooth of a brain, I will naturally assume that the restaurant’s desserts will live up to the preceding entrees so I will want to try a bite. I will be so full though, that when the item arrives, I end up taking a nip and leaving the rest the responsibility on the Cute Gardener’s gullet. Not being a sweet tooth kind of guy, he will end up spooning it in regardless—both of us leaving full and trying to recall the savory bites of a meal that came prior to the sugar onslaught.

I’ve come to realize that deep down this impetus for something sweet at the end of a meal signifies something in me I have completely outgrown. When I was a kid my cravings for sugar were wild and unfettered-completely immature and unsophisticated. It didn’t matter if they were sated at the bottom of a bowl of M&Ms the morning after my parents’ parties; through a grocery store candy bar or a la-dee-da scoop of Haagen Dazs … I was an emotional eater who used sweets as a way to feel fill a hole inside of me that was hankering for love and warmth.

In my twenties, after realizing this through years of expensive therapy, I went through a complete backlash towards sugar and became the ultimate sugar snob choosing to only eat bitter dark chocolates and Chinese mochi confections, assuaging myself with the knowledge that the red and mung bean paste delicacies were actually holistic forms of ancient Asian medicine. I would let down my guard once a month though while raising my daughter when we would have our mutual “women’s issues” that called for a slice of chocolate cake with fudgy frosting and lots of almond milk to soak it up or a pint of old fashioned Thrifty’s mint chip or cotton candy ice cream. But other than that, Tofutti cuties were about the only dessert-esque thing you’d ever find in my freezer.

When I met the CG my sweet tooth was reignited due to his pure butter-soaked thumb when it comes to baking. After tasting his sinful cocoa cookies, the best chocolate chip ever, and a barrage of cakes from lowbrow to highbrow whipped up in his kitchen, I found myself a willing slave to the dessert cart again. But now here I sit almost three years of dating later and realize I need to evaluate my ideas about sugar yet again. Somehow I feel like this will be a constant relationship of revision throughout my lifetime.

My Sugar Rules As Of This Minute
(perpetually subject to change)

  1. Never eat candy from the supermarket, period…
  2. Dark chocolate is the only chocolate. Unless it’s butterscotch Blondie chocolate. Or caramel Valrhona chocolate. Maybe, Valrhona is the only kind of chocolate. No, that’s not true.
  3. The next time I eat a macaron it will be in France.
  4. Anything white with coconut is fair game.
  5. Leave the cake making to the Cute Gardener.
  6. Only eat pastries if buying from the baker who baked them within the last 24 hours.
  7. Ice cream is over rated after age 12 unless made fresh with more eggs and cream and less artificial flavoring.
  8. Pies are only good when they are filled with roasted root vegetables or fresh, sustainable meat.
  9. Fact: fresh whipped cream and a spoon constitutes dessert, nothing else needed.
  10. Truffles from boxes will always taste like wax.
  11. Dessert IS allowed at restaurants if chosen from the savory, dinner menu like the CG and I once did with broad beans and white truffles when The Royce still lived prior to its takeover by a boring steakhouse.

Of course there are those rare moments that can’t be forsaken-when you find something that defies its “course” categorization and transcends definition because it just tastes that good. This is a rare classification though, at the moment meriting only the butterscotch pot de crème at Gjelina in Venice Beach and the butterscotch budino at Mozza in Los Angeles. Butterscotch lust is something I have not outgrown but I also know from experience that these two dishes can never be copied although a dozen restaurants across the Southern California scene are currently trying, and failing. (We tried to copy and failed too.)

And then there are the surprises—those things you have to try just because you have never heard of them and may never have the opportunity to taste them again. This was truly the case this past year at Gusto when I had a slice of pie that tasted like the moon. A heightened triangle of fluffy white topped with toasted coconut and a curl of chocolate fonduta arrived on a bed of Graham cracker crust to my delight at the end of a nice Italian artisan pasta and meatballs dinner. In today’s contemporary sea of cardboard-crusted chocolate and fruit tarts, tangy ganaches and variations on trendy ice cream flavors like crème fraiche and cinnamon, it came floating to my table like it had been carved from a cloud. Had I been banned at that time, I never would have discovered the unique piece of heaven that is coconut gelato pie.

There are always exceptions to the dessert rule, I think …

… as I sit contemplating another slice of the five-minute brownie pie I begged the CG to whip up last night for a Roberto Rossellini film.