The 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.
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.