Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Ahoy, chocolate lovers: tasty treats aboard the Berkeley in San Diego harbor

Chocolate coated waffles caught Cookie's eye resulting
in a tasty purchase from Belgium Gourmet ( 

Talk about having your cake and eating it, too!
High on the list of my partner's favorite things are chocolate and sailing.
To partake of both in the same day makes him one happy fella.
Throw in a pirate or two, to add drama to the mix.
So sailing on the Maritime Museum's historic Californian tall ship, munching chocolate confections under piratical gazes simply thrilled him.
A pirate and another onlooker listen
attentively to the history of chocolate
delivered by American Heritage.
San Diego's Maritime Museum recently hosted the city's second annual Chocolate Festival.  We gilded the lily by booking passage on the schooner Californian, combining the sweet pleasures of sailing with the taste treats of chocolate.
We began our day at the Maritime Museum (more about that next Saturday), exploring a submarine, surveying a series of America's Cup boats, admiring the beautiful Star of India ship and a nicely preserved 1914 pilot boat, not showing its near century of service.
Then we boarded the steam ferry Berkeley, and began our chocolate tour on her well polished second floor.
Thanks to an engaging tutorial and exhibit presented by American Heritage, we enjoyed a crash course on chocolate.
Did you know?
* That chocolate has been enjoyed since at least 1100 BC. We had no idea.
* That the Mesoamerican people including the Aztecs made chocolate beverages known as "xocolātl" which means "bitter water"? (The chocolate we know today is sweet. But in its pure
 American Heritage, of the famous Mars Bars, took festival goers
through the creation of hot chocolate, from the pods to the popular beverage.
form, the seeds of the cacao tree have an intense bitter taste. They are fermented and roasted to develop the flavor we might recognize.)
* That the making of chocolate is extremely labor intensive? After fermentation, the beans are dried, then cleaned, and then roasted, and the shell is finally removed to produce cacao nibs.
* The nibs are painstakingly ground to cocoa mass, pure chocolate in its roughest but still bitter form.
* This cocoa mass usually is liquefied then molded.
 So the treat we eat begins as cocoa beans within the cacao pod, making a long and elaborate journey to the candy store.
The American Heritage people, a division of Mars of the famous candy empire and popular candy, walked us through the stations of chocolate, from the pod -- resembling a squash -- to a sample of hot chocolate.
The hip-looking Secret Cookie Service delivers gourmet varieties of chocolate treats. (
Among the offerings at the seaside chocolate fest on the Berkeley, were wedding cakes, truffles, Belgium chocolate covered waffles, mousse, sauces and compotes, chocolate covered seeds and nuts and delectable toffees, candies and cookies.
One of the most fun booths was manned by The Secret Cookie Service.  Two young men, dressed like FBI agents,  complete with skinny neckties, sun glasses and "Blues Brothers" hats, offered freshly baked gourmet chocolate cookies. Their enterprise delivers their cookies in the wee hours of the morning, throughout the city.
Chocolate pizza might be gilding the lily! A festival booth offered samples.
And there were other imaginative booths, including one featuring chocolate pizza. Interesting to think of chocolate as a main course because for most of its life on earth, chocolate has not been sweet.  The Europeans were the first to add sugar, syrup and refined milk making chocolate a dessert or treat.
Earlier people used it as a kind of coffee, brewing it bracingly for its tartness and enjoying the flavor and kick f the unadulterated bean.
 The Mesoamericans enjoyed the beverage and used it as an ingredient in foods, presumably in ways that it is still served today, mixed with shredded meats or beans as a main-course flavoring. Chocolate played a special role in both Maya and Aztec royal and religious events. Priests presented cacao seeds as offerings to the deities and served chocolate drinks during sacred ceremonies.
All of the areas that were conquered by the Aztecs that grew cacao beans were ordered to pay them as a tax, or as the Aztecs called it, a "tribute".
Watching the labor intensive making of chocolate gives
 one appreciation for the creation of the treat.

It is true that dogs and cats should not eat chocolate.  That's because of the presence of the alkaloid theobomine.
Cocoa solids also contain caffeine, explaining its early popularity as a morning beverage and its continuing use as an eye-opener .
Finally, good news for the calorie conscious.  It's okay to have a few bites of chocolate because it has been linked to serotonin levels in the brain. Chocolate, eaten in moderation, can lower blood pressure!
But don't feed it to your pets.

Saturday's post will
shiver your timbers!
COMING SATURDAY: A step back in time to the days of a 19th Century ship.  The Californian sets sail and we're aboard to help hoist the sails. Remember to explore, learn and live.
Upcoming posts feature a trip down memory lane with the Manhattan Transfer, and the pleasures of Montana in the early summer. We'll also advise on taking eye-catching  photos and the camera to take them with.

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