Most people following or learning to follow a healthy vegan or plant-based diet are relieved to discover that a little cocoa powder here and there is allowed, and can add depth and richness to healthy foods. The recent surge of enthusiastic and joyful comments on Susan’s post, Pumpkin Spiced Hot Chocolate is compelling evidence for this relief.
But what if you can’t have chocolate? Or if you like chocolate but chocolate doesn’t like you?
Decades ago, Dr. Swank cautioned those with MS in his classic The Multiple Sclerosis Diet Book that the caffeine and the theobromine in chocolate can overtax the compromised nerves of those who have MS. Alas, I am one of those people. (You can read more about the problems these compounds in chocolate cause some people here). In my case, if I want to assure myself I’ll be awakened and kept awake at night by involuntary leg twitching, all I need to do is eat a so- called “healthy” gluten free fat free brownie. Beyond a rare ceremonial bite or two, it just doesn’t work for me anymore.
I have been addicted to chocolate ever since I was a little girl, and though I didn’t know that word at four years old, I experienced what it meant. I can remember sitting on the couch, still so short my feet stuck out straight in front of me, having been given a small cup of chocolate chips to eat in front of the black and white TV. I was trying to share them with my sleepy baby, which got smeared with the chocolate on my hands. And though I should have been happy, I remember the conflicted feelings of the rush to get the taste into my mouth, not being able to stop eating the sweet morsels, and feeling terrible simply because I knew I couldn’t stop. Ironically, or perhaps tellingly, I did not remember this early experience until after starting to eat this way and learning to recognize more accurately how chocolate was affecting me.
Just out of college, decades after that tell-tale moment on the old brown couch, my dear housemate Judy gave me the Boynton book, Chocolate, The All Consuming Passion. Even though I haven’t had a chocolate bar in too many years to count, I kept it on my bookshelf until a few weeks ago, when I finally decided I was done identifying with those adorable little hippos.
It’s in a pile consigned to go to a used bookstore so someone else who wants to laugh about being addicted to chocolate can read it. In some way this decision marks the certainty that I am living chocolate free and not afraid to say so. I’d rather have legs that can relax, and the best sleep I can find at night.
Over the years, I’ve learned to love life without chocolate. Usually I don’t try to substitute. I’ll take a different direction and just go for a simple treat that’s rich and whole in its own way. Like a soft medjool date. Natala over at Engine 2 says they taste like caramels. I agree.
But every once in a while I still want to join the party. Reading the Pumpkin Spiced Hot Chocolate recipe was one of those times. So I called on my old friend carob.
We first met in the early 70’s (about the same time Dr. Swank was first warning those of us with MS about chocolate). I was 14 and my mother was on an “allergy diet.” For a brief time she gave up wheat, alcohol and maybe cheese, too. I can’t remember. But I do remember going to House of Nutrition where they sold thick chunks of broken carob bars out of a large glass canister at the front counter. (I just looked it up, and it’s still in business! Here’s their take on carob, with staff picks for favorite products.) I was a bit embarrassed that I liked its milder taste. For most people, liking carob as much as chocolate is kind of like Charlie Brown being glad to get a rock in his trick or treat sack. Chocolate satirist Boynton quips that although when combined with fat and sugar, carob approximates the color and consistency of chocolate, “the same arguments can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt.”
Even though I appreciate her wry humor, I don’t agree with that. My early affinity for carob has served me well when I need a sweet substitute in a recipe that revolves around chocolate. Karina at Gluten Free Goddess is well loved for her incredible chocolate desserts. But she also reveals a delightful soft spot for carob in her post featuring a recipe for a tasty Carob Banana Smoothie which you can enjoy by going here.
So I made the Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate without the chocolate. Oh, and without the pumpkin, too. I used cooked pureed winter squash I had on hand. And since I can’t have soy, either, unless I want to have night sweats or a higher, unforgiving pitch to the pain in my connective tissue, I used almond milk. My choice of sweetener was a tablespoon of date syrup and two drops of liquid stevia. Because carob is milder, I used about 2 ½ tbs of it. I added a whole teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and a little extra vanilla. The result was a thick, rich drink that surprised even me, who is always willing to ask the wallflower carob to dance.
But you don’t have to take my carob-biased word for it. I took Susan’s suggestion and made the leftovers into pudding by heating it back up on the stove with two tablespoons of cornstarch whisked in. I brought it to a boil and poured it into my great grandmother’s carnival glass dessert cups. (But before I did that, I had the inspiration to add a dash of Grand Marnier out of tiny bottle I keep for just such special ventures. Orange extract would work, too, if you want to fancy it up. Or grate a little orange zest in.)
Later that day when my DGA (Dear Garden Accomplice) was here raking leaves and helping me prepare the yard for Winter, I tentatively asked if he’d like to try it, apologizing for the fact that it wasn’t chocolate. He was game. His eyes got really wide after the first spoonful. “This is really good,” he said. And took another spoonful. And said it again. And again. He stood in the kitchen, eating the whole thing without even bothering to sit down.
Apparently, as they say, the proof is in the pudding.