Shock. Surprise. Bewilderment. That was my initial reaction a few years back when I was told that I was being laid off from what I considered to be my dream job. I was swept up along with millions in the wave of the Great Recession.
Ok, perhaps my reaction was not quite surprise. I had some inkling something was going down since the economy was tanking fast. It did catch me off guard though.
After I managed to pull my heart out of my stomach, I felt an odd sort of elation. I was almost giddy. That surprised me even more.
The job market was still okay and a quick search and some phone calls revealed that there were good, interesting positions available. I had options. Maybe even a better job than the one I loved despite getting the boot.
My employer generously let me stay on for a few months. I was still technically employed while seeking a new situation, a major plus. I had good recommendations. I knew I was much better off than most who were also finding themselves suddenly, unavoidably jobless.
Sighhhh. Relief set in. I had been spared the worst and would bounce back before the economy sank even further.
Wrong. I had never been so wrong in my life.
Before I coaxed my heart out of my stomach, I think I went on stress induced auto-pilot. Couldn't process, need air, need something… comforting. Something to quell the trauma of my life being suddenly turned on its head.
I left the office for a walk to clear my head on that chilly morning. Still on auto-pilot, I found myself in a good local chocolate shop ordering a half pound of my favorite dark chocolate caramels. No box, please. Just put them in a bag. I paid, I have no idea what, but it was worth every. single. cent.
That first bite, the snap and taste of the smooth slightly bitter chocolate, teeth sinking into the chewy sweet buttery caramel, was heaven. The flavors blended together on my tongue- intense, complex, aromatic- that one delicious confection melted my stress away.
I ate another. It was reviving, my head was clearing. I pulled my heart out of the pit of my stomach and marched myself back to the office and got down to business.
After a couple days, I had inhaled my entire half pound of delicious soul quenching dark chocolate caramels. They were sustaining, keeping my stress at bay, they kept me going and focused. I needed more.
By now, that irritatingly rational and practical little voice in my head took over. Girl, you’re losing your job, you can’t afford this good chocolate! But I wasn't about to just settle for a candy bar either. I had lost my appetite for everything, except the subtle complexities of good quality chocolate.
I sought out a more affordable source for my chocolate caramel fix. Yes, this substitute did the job but just weren't as satisfying.
Weeks, then a month, then another month and another passed by.
My prospects, which had seemed hopeful, dried up or turned into one dead end after another. Grudgingly, I told myself I had to prepare for the worst and that included cutting out any unnecessary luxuries. It was down to absolute basics now.
Chocolate and I were torn apart, reluctantly, tearfully.
Sadly, I went about my days feeling sluggish and unmotivated. I tried nursing a glass of red wine to help with stress relief. Although enjoyable, that just made me tired which made me cranky. I switched from drinking tea back to coffee. That just made me loopy and manic, tortured with sleepless nights. I pined for my beloved chocolate. I could not live without chocolate.
AH-haaa! (yes, a momentary bright light bulb blinking above my head). Could I make my own chocolate covered caramels?
Sure! Why not. I could have my chocolate and eat it affordably too, I supposed. In fact, this was a logical progression. I always found cooking to be therapeutic. In particular, the challenge of conquering a seemingly difficult food and succeeding in making it from scratch. By this point, I need some SERIOUS therapy.
I liken myself to a version of Tita from Like Water for Chocolate, raised in the kitchen as my mother’s sous chef. I learned a lot from my mother in the kitchen but it took me decades to appreciate what she taught me. Coming of age in the 80’s I had visions of becoming an (over) educated career woman not a homemaker. I wanted cooking to be fun, done on my terms, and not an everyday chore. Nope, that would not be me slaving over a hot stove for a bunch of picky eaters.
Sometimes it takes us a while to come around to things which, in case you’re wondering, is where this is all going. One of the most important lessons my mother taught me is that recipes, unless you are baking, are to be used more as a guide instead of a rule. Experimentation is fun. It’s exciting and disappointing. Sometimes you cook something amazingly delicious and sometimes it’s just not.
So, what the hell. I decided to take on chocolate, the nectar of the gods, as my next conquest. I had nothing to lose. My life was in disarray, I had cut all the other vices out of my life, and I needed good chocolate. Now.
I jumped right in: melted a bar of half decent dark chocolate and dipped some of those store bought bagged caramels in the chocolate with a fork and plopped them on a dish. Hummm. Not stellar results but not a complete disaster either. Mediocre at best and they were far from looking pretty. The chocolate was yummy but disappointingly sticky and melted between the fingers, the caramels were definitely lacking. Still, I was happy to eat every single last one.
If it’s not obvious, it should be clear, I dove in eyes closed seeking direction, purpose and satisfaction and I found it in...Chocolate, it was always you!