Chocolate Signals

by D. Prinz on September 12, 2014

trappistineThe Trappistine nun appeared to levitate as she welcomed us at the factory door with urgent questions about how to market chocolate for Father’s Day, about aspects of kosher certification and about increasing their Chanukah sales. Sister Christa-Maria, in her Bavarian tinged English, broke the Benedictine prohibition against speaking to give us a tour of Trappistine Quality Candy at Mount St. Mary’s Abbey, sequestered deep in the woods of Wrentham, Mass. The candy business fits into a long tradition of the chocolate interests of earlier Cistercian (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, more commonly known as Trappistine) monks in Spain, which included their chocolate room at the Monastery at Poblet, Spain.

Sister Christa-Maria explained how her group transitioned from being totally silent to using more verbal language in 2001. The silence had focused them on essentials of spiritual life; yet, they are not hermits, they live in community, there are relationships. It was extremely difficult to have healthy connections without discussing issues; how really resolve differences, since work issues carried over to prayer. Now they balance verbal language with communication through silent hand signals, which includes unique signs for chocolate.

Here is Sister Christa-Maria’s beautiful demonstration of the awesome, proprietary Benedictine sign language for chocolate related words.


Can’t Live Without Chocolate?

by D. Prinz on August 22, 2014

Good for me! Good for me!


It seems a given that many of us depend on chocolate. Everywhere I speak about On the Chocolate Trail (Jewish Lights), people confess: “I can’t live without it.” And they want reassurance that the popular headlines about chocolate’s health advantages are true.
Whether my body temperature slowly melts a mouthful, or, I am chomping on a chocolate lollypop, or, I crack off a bit of a bar to smooth the tasks ahead, I find it comforting as well. That is why my pantry is well stocked with chocolate mostly from our travels. When I run low, I will resupply from local sources such as 2Beans, Dean and Deluca, Fairway, or Zabar’s.
At the moment I could choose among Caotina hot cocoa packets from the Geneva airport, a bar of British Duffy’s 72 % dark chocolate from Honduras, an Endangered Species Dark Chocolate bar with cacao nibs from the local health food store, a bar of Olive and Sinclair Stone Ground Mexican Style chocolate from Nashville purchased in Columbus, Ohio, Equal Exchange Swiss style minis from Massachusetts, homemade Cayenne Kicks (see the recipe in On the Chocolate Trail) See’s chocolate lollypops from Los Angeles, a slab of Mexican chocolate for drinking (we do not remember where we picked that up), a tube of Ülker chocolate spread made in Turkey acquired in Oxford, England, and, a box of Frango mints from Chicago. One could say, a chocolate for every season and every mood.
Just to be clear, we eat a little bit at a time. Like insurance, it is reassuring to have on hand in case we have company, or I need to bake or I want a nosh.

And, research of course has to be done.
It was my research indeed that led me to Gary Wenk’s book, Your Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings, (Oxford University Press, 2010). Wenk, with his very impressive credentials–Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center–affirms several positive effects of chocolate consumption and jokes that he hopes that the FDA will not ban it as a result. Chocolate’s pleasure resides in its psychoactive compounds, a stimulant- like amphetamine, resulting in euphoria. Chocolate is also estrogen-like and marijuana-like, Wenk reveals. He cites research noting longevity among men who eat it. And, the anti-oxidants in a bar of chocolate equal those in a glass of wine. No wonder we all like it so much.
Now, I just need another little nibble as I continue to investigate some of the other health claims for chocolate: heart health, diabetes protection, memory strength and more.


Smiley Chocolate

June 13, 2014

We hit the mother lode. This chocolate factory came to us from Columbia, unlike the others we were fortunate to trek to in Belgium, England, France, Israel, Mexico, Spain, and Switzerland. To be precise to the David Zwirner gallery near the High Line in Chelsea. Oscar Murillo’s performance art installation, A Mercantile Novel, mashes up […]

Read the full article →

Saluting Military Chocolate

May 26, 2014

  Memorial Day recalls the tangible and serious sacrifices made by members of the US military. Chocolate has played a part in that here, as well as in Israel and Britain. When I came across these stories as I was researching On the Chocolate Trail, I was surprised at how important chocolate was for both […]

Read the full article →

Think Chocolate in Preparation for Passover’s Discussions and Eating

April 12, 2014

Several publications picked up my pieces about chocolate and Passover recently — Huffington Post, Jewish Journal and Jewish Telegraphic Agency — and I share them here, along with A Haggadah for a Chocolate Seder and related rabbinic texts from responsa literature: A Haggadah for a Chocolate Seder (free download!) This Haggadah provides an entry point […]

Read the full article →

Chocolate Love Lessons for Valentine’s Day

February 5, 2014

Love lessons pulsate through Denise Acabo’s chocolate shop, A l’Etoile d’Or, Montmartre, Paris. Baby-faced Denise, who may be in her 80’s, has tended to customers and chocolate for the last 40 years costumed in her braided hair and school-uniform kilt skirt. Against the backdrop of her carefully curated chocolate offerings, she preens for the camera: […]

Read the full article →

Chocolate Coated Mallomars Turns 100

November 13, 2013

Do you want to eat a 100 year old chocolate covered, cookie framed marshmallow? The iconic Mallomars turned 100 today. That calls to mind its sibling concoctions from other countries and times, such as the Krembo in Israel. Other similar classic chocolate-covered marshmallows recall the colonial empire roots of some European chocolate traditions. Chocolate makers […]

Read the full article →

From Prins to Prinz: The Mysteries of the Chocolate Trail

September 19, 2013

Little did I realize when writing On the Chocolate Trail, how eerie the connections between Jews and chocolate might become.  My choco-dar (internal radar for chocolate experiences) led me to a hauntingly personal story. In 2009, a very kind scholar, learning of my chocolate interests, mentioned a Dutch archival collection of a Jewish scholar who […]

Read the full article →

Jews Make Chocolate a Revolutionary Option: Happy July 4

July 4, 2013

Sephardi Jews contributed to the availability of drinking chocolate when that became a very popular substitute for politicized tea in North America around the time of the 1773 Boston Tea Party. The Gomez family members (NYC) and Aaron Lopez (Newport) were among the several North American Jews who engaged in the manufacture, retail, and consumption […]

Read the full article →

Louis Kwechansky and his Chocolate Factory: A Father’s Day Tribute from Alex Kwechansky

June 8, 2013

In 1939, well before I was born, my father, Louis Kwechansky was already into chocolate production in Montreal. He had patented a machine to make a product that would seal his fame. He invented a chocolate lollypop on a stick, called a “Chocolate Pop.” He hired the best known intellectual property firm in town to […]

Read the full article →