Category Archives: Chocolate

Chocolate Art is the highest expression of our pursuit…

Quirky SF Chocolate Tour finds true gems

For my birthday one of my daughters and The Bride conspired to get me a near perfect present: A two-hour walking tour of San Francisco’s commitment to the art of fine chocolate. It was perfect because 1) it was cheap. They even got a Groupon discount. (they know me well), 2) the tour offered ample samples of crack-like joy (caffeine and chocolate are pretty much the only addictions I have left… I Jones for both daily), and 3) it was smack dab in the gritty part of the city I adore, weaving around Market Street among the homeless, tourists, scammers, artists and shop owners.

The one downside: the tour is offered by a global company based out of New York. Something this interwoven into the local scene should be offered by a local. In fact, I thought it was, so I asked the tour guide if he owned the business. It was just schlocky and quirky and slightly unpolished enough for me to hope so (he didn’t). It should be. A local operator would make it that much more of all that works. Trust me on this, you don’t need more polish or elitist glitz, which San Francisco has far too much of lately. We do quirky like an art form in SF. The local tour guide brought that element and did it perfectly. The tour focused on chocolate, excellent chocolate in a region that has made its mark on it since Ghirardelli arrived during the Gold Rush years. City history seasoned the tour like well-crafted backnotes of flavor with perfect balance.

The tour starts on the busy street outside of Fog City News, which is hidden gem of a newsstand turned chocolate collector and seller that surpasses its news collection. The chocolate part is mostly hidden from view. Passersby likely don’t know the little gift shop has collected more than 200 offerings out of thousands of taste tests that it touts as the best in the world. As the tour guide talks over honking motorists, ambulance sirens and rattling street cars bounding past, we joined the crowd of two dozen tourists — I suspect we were the only locals there — to start the tour. Over the next two hours we had samples in similar small spaces interwoven on or near Market Street.

A favorite was an eco-friendly Belgian chocolate cafe called  New Tree.

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The cinnamon chocolate jumped of my palette. The lavender chocolate became the bar that we measured all others on the rest of the tour against. Only one came close. The latte I bought before leaving combined both my addictions with an extra boost of love. I love, love, love this place.

Spicely, an organic spice company that also served us a tea tasting was an incredibly impressive store with exemplary customer service. The store is so small that half the tour went tasting while the other half stood outside and listened over the din to a brief history of chocolate and San Francisco. The pungent smell of Gold drifting marijuana infused the lesson with local flavor and reminded me of sitting next to Mike Tessier, foremost stoner at our high-school, in ninth grade history. (Mike was ever-so-briefly a child star having played Barney Miller’s son in the pilot of the long-running TV show). Once we got inside, the scent changed to exotic spices and tastes included delectably complex chocolate.

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The Raspberry Rooibos may have even topped New Tree’s lavender and became the only chocolate we took home with us. It will star in our next homemade ice-cream.

We touched down briefly in Ghirardelli to pay brief tribute to the icon of SF chocolate. We learned that after successful sales of his chocolates brought him from Italy, he quickly tried everything except making chocolate including trying his hand at panning for gold.

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Thankfully, his poor success forced him back into the chocolate-making business, forever etching his name in lights on the San Francisco bay.

A delightful Japanese confections store that I’ve walked by hundreds of times and never once noticed felt like being transported across the Pacific. The chocolate was fine, but what stood out was it’s focus on the artistry of their offerings in true Effin Artist spirit.

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For less than a typical quick bite to eat in the city we enjoyed more than two hours of local history, local ambiance and impressive chocolate. It doesn’t get much better. I’d say that as far as birthday presents go, they nailed it.

Test kitchen to return to artistic pursuit of chocolate

We mess around with a lot of different things in the test kitchen. We can be so all over the map that it’s hard to remember this whole thing started with the idea of experimenting with chocolate. We launched the test kitchen to simply experiment with the artistic expression of chocolate– art you can eat, we called it, because we don’t like the clutter of most types of artistic expression.

The idea for all things Effin Artist came to me in rehab. Needless to say, the food sucked. Hell, everything sucked. But my daughter sent me books on artisan chocolate. I had mentioned in passing the idea — virtually clueless that the trend was long established — and she sent me the books to encourage me. I’d lay there and look at the incredible pictures of different chocolates with exotic flavors and beautiful expression and I simply wanted to make those things. Losing wine and cocktails and happy hours I was desperate for something I could call mine. Chocolate — the idea of it anyway — became “mine.”

Now nearly five years into sobriety my life is rich, full and expressive, in direct contrast to the narrowed, limited and depraved life that came at the end of my two-decade long dance with the bottle.

Here I sit on the other side of those perilous mountains of recovery that I simply couldn’t imagine crossing and life is good. EffinArtist is more than I ever dreamed it would be. Life is too. Health is great. Creativity is the key to sobriety. Blessed, I think daily. Blessed.

But those original pictures of chocolate art remain beyond reality and it’s time to change all that, I think.

As the test kitchen evolved, we went where our interest took us and so far, most of our chocolate remains entirely experimental and not very artistic at all.

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This summer we resolve to return to the original mission for a basic reason: A piece or two of beautiful, hand-crafted chocolates satisfies on so many levels: artistic expression, sweet tooth cravings, but also maintaining a healthy approach to food. And because it’s not easy, we have the blessing of Jimmy Dugan, and the interest to see it through.


Jumped off the band wagon for cake pops

Here’s two truths I felt strongly about: 1) I don’t do trendy, which is why I haven’t had the least bit of interest in cake pops. 2) By popular demand of my relatively cranky family email chain, I’ve been making healthier stuff in the test kitchen to help battle the post-holiday bulge.

Having finished Bran Muffins (which went for about three weeks instead of one) I was moving on to Energy Bars.

But then my truths collided. In an impulsive desire to make a birthday present (and probably because my food drug was Jonesing for a rush) I went out and impulsively decided to make cake pops. That’s the drug talking, I’m sure.

Turns out, forget trendy, I love these little suckers and they reinforced a core principle I have about life in general. Philosophy on a stick, that’s what these are.

I made two types (of course… I have to experiment… clearly you get that by now, right?) with a couple of different ways to top them. The chocolate topping I used a tradition melted, pre-tempered product that only further convinced me that I need to get over my fears of tempering chocolate and figure it out. Soon… soon… (I hope?)… For the peanut butter ones I used Reese’s Peanut Butter morsels, melted down. They were heavier and had to be painted on, which made them look like hippie cake pops with shaggy hair. I sort of liked it, but we’ll work on the presentation (and apparently the photo… I wasn’t high, I promise!).


Here’s the one key, above all keys… whatever you use for the glue, be it frosting or like I did, a caramel filling, don’t use VERY much. I used less than a 1/3 of a cup for 3/4 of an entire cake (ON impulse I dug out some frozen white chocolate frosting I had from the holidays, because you know I never waste anything!) and cut a couple of pieces for The Bride and I. Nothing like chocolate cake and a big glass of milk!

I let the cake chill overnight in the fridge, which wasn’t necessary but really helped when it came time to make the pops. You need them to form and stick and hold together while you make them or they will fall off the stick. (By the way, I nabbed the foam to hold them from a florist for a couple of bucks.)

This is the whole thing when it comes to cake pops, that delicate balance between wanting the center to taste like cake, not gooey dough, but still hold together on the pop.


Balance. That’s the key. I held all these things in tension and with a little practice discovered a delightful treat, which is really the perfect size for those cravings or treats or whatever you call it when you need something delightfully sinful.

And that’s why I now love cake pops. They are balanced, which is really the secret to most everything in life.

As I ate my delightfully fluffy, moist, but not gooey cake pops, I reflected on how they emulate life, precariously perched on the point of a stick, doing our level best to hang on and still turn out delightful, balanced and sweet. That’s life. Cake pops as life! Seinfeld looked to the cookie! I look to the cake pop!


Holiday cheer send off, let the withdrawals begin

Tonight I finished off the last of the fudge I made for Christmas:

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The Christmas cookies went the way of gifts, and I stupidly forget to slip some into my freezer:

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Even the stocking stuffers are long gone:

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Seriously, no stale marsh-mellow Santas in our stockings… how bad do you want to be my kid at Christmas, I ask you?! Pretty… bad.

Christmas is officially over. It’s been fun. Very fun. But the good times can’t last forever, and apparently neither can the chocolate. Let the withdrawals begin, sadly.

But the memories will last because we ate like kids playing hide-and-seek with Willy Wonka this year! Ummm mmmn good.

Happy hour

For more than a decade I lived for happy hour. What followed wasn’t always so happy. Now I have a new definition of the term. It doesn’t suck:

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And this cookie doesn’t either. Man o man…. If I could paint, I’d have painted that cookie.

Life is so Effin beautiful.