Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Fave Chocolate Secrets, Chocolate Makers

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet
The New Year is here and Earth changes are in the works. After coping with a three day power outage, slushy snow, ice dams, and cold temps (low will be zero on Tuesday) at Lake Tahoe, I realize it could have been much worse. Once connected to the world again, news of an outbreak of tornadoes in America during the winter and "biblical flooding" down below welcomed me. It has me recalling chilling scenes of the doomsday film "The Day After Tomorrow" .

In the real world, cabin fever is setting in early for me and fantasies of Hawaii or even Washington are toying with my mind. The pool I favor is overflowing with tourists--and I miss my exercise endorphin natural high; it's icy outdoors which makes it a challenge to walk like a penguin with my two Type A Brittanys. Maybe the town will be a bit more sane this coming week and I can sneak a swim and hot tub in before the snowboarders and skiiers do it.

Meanwhile, I'm turning to my furry companion animals and a bit of "winter" dark chocolate to get through the series of severe wacky winter weather around the globe and seasonal effective disorder (SAD). Here, take a quick look at how you can get a quick mood booster from some of the most talked-about compounds in chocolate.

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My Fave Chocolate Compounds

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* Anandamide: Touted as the "bliss chemical," it occurs naturally in the brain and when released to our brain recepteros can provide good feelings.
* Caffeine: This ingredient has a stimulating effect on the nervous system. But note, both chocolate and cocoa contain minimal amounts of caffeine. A 1-ounce piece of dark chocolate contains 10-20 milligrams of caffeine. (You get a lot more in a cup of brewed java.)

* Endorphins: Dark chocolate, like exercise, helps release endorphins, natural painkillers in your body that act on the nervous system to zap pain.

* PEA: Another brain chemical known as the "chocolate amphetamine" can increase blood pressure and feelings of excitement. It also has been called the "love drug" because it can mimic feelings of falling in love.

* Serotonin: This is a brain chemical that can make you feel happier and improve brain power. It can even provide a calming effect.

So, everyone asks me, the author of The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, 2010) (embraced by The Good Cook Club and One Spirit Book Club), "What's your favorite chocolate brand?" It's a task to narrow it down to one, but here is a quickie list that works for me, a devout chocolatarian. In my chocolate book, I discuss in sensory detail about both the "food of the gods" and these specific chocolate makers' unforgettable treasures, which are found either online and/or in grocery stores, too.

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My Fave Chocolate Makers

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Meanwhile, while I have chocolate on the brain, I just heard that we may have fresh snow come this weekend (easier to walk the pooches and a cleaner look outdoors). And I have a nice, roaring fire working its magic in the fireplace, the ice dam is hooked up (thanks to electricity), and I'm watching "Untraceable" (a spooky reminder that I have access to the Internet). It's time to grab a piece of anti-stress dark chocolate and put those feel-good, calming compounds to work.
(Photo: Christopher Norman Chocolates)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

News Flash! Chocolate May Stop a Hacking Cough

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

Surprise! Today, a hot off the press news report (actually more than one!) was no surprise to me, the author of The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, 2010). It's noted that the compound theobromine may be what the doctor will order to stop a cough. Uh, yeah... I knew that because London researchers were onto this cure some time ago--and now a British-based drugs company called SEEK are working as I write. In the Home Remedies from Your Kitchen section of my chocolate book, I wrote:

COUGH (Stop Hacking) Sometimes with colds or after them, a cough will follow. Nobody likes to suffer hacking, because it hurts after a while as well as disturbs you and other, right? Chocolate--yes, chocolate--may be the tasty cure for a cough, according to medical researchers. But if you have acute bronchitis, run--do not walk--to your doctor for a checkup. (Bronchitis can end up as a life-threatening pneumonia.)

What Chocolate Rx to Use: Drink a cup of quality dark hot cocoa (or two cups if you can afford the calories; if you're sick your appetite is AWOL, anyhow). Or, opt for an ounce or two of dark chocolate (contains nearly 1,000 milligrams of theobromine--the ingredient that will help suppress your cough) with a 70 percent cocoa content.

Why You'll Like It: If it works, you will be able to rest easy. Also, cough syrup doesn't always taste good, and cough drops don't seem to work that well. And, medical doctors believe dark chocolate may work as well as cough medicine, which often contains codeine, which can make you drowsy. Yes, melting your cough away with chocolate may work. It's the ingredient theobromine--found in cocoa--that proved more helpful than codeine. The reason? The natural cure acts on the vagus nerve, the culprit of coughing.
So, 'tis the season for colds and coughs. While I'm not going to wait for two years to see if the new researchers' work pans out, if I get a tickle in my throat, it's time for hot chocolate stat!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Psst Santa! Chocolate is Still the Craze Everywhere

By Cal Orey,

The Writing Gourmet

I can remember that when I was a little girl chocolate was a part of holidays in suburbia, where I grew up. Once Christmas rolled around, through the New Year's holiday, chocolate chip cookies for Santa, chocolate pudding, and homemade fudge were rich treats that everyone in the family couldn't resist.
Four more days to Christmas...And if you're wondering what gift to get for you know who, chocolate may be just the perfect thing. According to consumer companies, it's the dark healthy stuff that is making the news for the future chocolate makers and chocolatiers.

Here, take a look at some sobering facts, straight from my book The Healing Powers of Chocolate (Kensington, 2010)--that'll show you that chocolate is still the crazy during the best and worst of economic times:

* Research company Packaged Facts claiming in a past report that the U.S. market for chocolate was primed for growth from $16 billion to $18 billion in 2011.
* Mintel, a leading global supplier of consumer products, believes the sweet tooth does not seem to be linked to the economic downturn. Mintel projects Americans will continue indulging in innovative dark and premium chocolates.
* The international market for chocolate has skyrocketed in Asia, where chocolate is a modestly priced and available Western luxury that attracts the middle-class folks.
* More than 6 of 10 Americans are loyal to a particular brand of chocolate, but many are trying new brands.
* What's more, nearly 4 out of 10 Americans eat chocolate at least a few times per week.
* Fifty-four percent of Americans said they eat chocolate because they like it, while 4 percent eat chocolate for health reasons.
* Chocolate is American's favorite flavor.
* Chocolate was a favorite comfort food during the Depression in the 1930s.

So, these days come with challenges for many people due to the sluggish economy due to the Great Recession. But the chocolate craze, whether you bake a batch of fudge or buy a box of premium chocolates or gourmet chocolate bar, continues on as a tradition.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

5 Must-Have Holiday Wines & Chocolate Partners

By Cal Orey,
The Writing Gourmet

In my latest book The Healing Powers of Chocolate Kensington, 2010), I dish out health perks of red wine and dark chocolate. While I do not drink (perhaps that'll change in 2011 and definitely 2012 before the end of days), I do know that red wine is good for you and is included in the Mediterranean diet.
Wine guru Anita L. LaRaia, author of Pick a Perfect Wine in No Time, knows the perks of wine, and chocolate, too. In a nutshell, it's the double dose of good for you disease-fighting and anti-aging antioxidants from dark chocolate and red wine that make it all good. Here is an excerpt from my chocolate book on some wine and chocolate marriages made in heaven (and I include an entire chapter on this topic) ...
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*Blane de Norie-Sparkling Wine: Vosages Barcelona Bar--41 percent cacao; deep milk chocolate with hickory-smoked almonds and grey sea salt.
* Zinfandel (California): "Zinfandel is a good match for semi-sweet dark choclate--and there is a sweet Zinfandel chocolate port that's made as a chocolate sauce for pouring over ice cream, or for dipping strawberries," notes the wine wizard.
* Malbec: LaRaia recommends teaming Malbec with a seven-layer chocolate cake, which will provide a touch of elegance.
* Pedro Ximenez, Sweet Dessert Wine, Montilla, Spain: The wine gal advises pairing this wine with a bittersweet chocolate mousse cake.
* Ruby or Vintage Porto: And last but not least in this mini wine and chocolate menu selection is a sweet red, high 20 percent alcohol dessert wine from Portugal. Porto is a perfect partner with chocolate cheesecake or chocolate pecan pie.
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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Foodies' Forecast 2011: Eating on a Shoestring Budget

By Cal Orey,

The Writing Gourmet

As a former starving graduate student at San Francisco State (yes, I rolled pennies and cashed 'em in), I realize now I was getting crash courses on how to survive in the real world. (One professor talked the greenhouse effect; another about how to live life so you have something to write about.) Actually, it wasn't as economically scary back in the '80s because my fellow peers were all hungry and living in jeans, T-shirts, and enjoying the free things in life. The cool thing is, I did eat healthy for being flat broke. Read: Brown rice, fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grain bread and bagels, peanut butter and honey played a role in my minimalist diet...
Fast forward to the present-day. While warming isn't happening (the temps are dropping andrain/ snow will fall at Tahoe), tonight for dinner, I was going to cook a poultry dish but my little all-natural birds were still frozen. So, peanut butter, bananas, whole grain sourdough bread, and honey (I have a lot thanx to my forthcoming book, The Healing Powers of Honey, Kensington, October 2011) came to the rescue.
The sandwich of health nut students hit the spot as I nibbled on it (and my sweet and sneaky food loving pooch Seth snatched the last bite); while reading the latest news about the ups and downs of the current econony. I'm so confused. Everything is good except for a mega lack of jobs and countries abroad have caught the economic sickness. Not to forget CA, NV and other states dealing with foreclosures, layoffs, and homelessness. I give up trying to figure it all out. I flunked math in college, anyhow. But, as an intuitive (yep, I serve up answers to callers who have questions about the future), I do know and can sadly say that there are a growing number the haves and have-nots. My article "Middle Class Melt Down" (page 24) on this topic made the cover on Oracle 20-20 Magazine, December issue.
My point of this blog post? I, like you maybe even you, can eat healthy on a roller coaster cash flow. That means, sticking to the staples as noted above. These foods are found in the Mediterranean diet--what I practice and preach in my HEALING POWERS book series. These simple and nutrient-rich foods will keep you healthy and lean. And it's so much better to eat this stuff rather than processed foods and junk food. In other words, keep it simple and real and you'll survive eating well in 2011, whether you're a have or have-not or floundering somewhere in between. And now it's time for me to dish out my 2011 Forecasts, including what we can expect for the economy and food costs. That calls for a cup of hot honey vanilla chamomile honey tea (or two).
P.S. I did sense and predict the recession of 2008. My doom and gloom forecast (complete with my black cat's sixth sense) and food facts was dished out in a PR press release to radio talk shows and even geologist Jim Berkland (the scientist who predicted the World Series Earthquake). He didn't believe me at first but later did give me credit for being spot on once it was a global reality and groundbreaking news. Too bad it was a "hit" and not a miss. It's tea and honey time.