I keep bars of dark chocolate around the house for when I have a sweet tooth. I can break off a small square and satisfy my cravings while keeping my health and weight both in check. By the fourth night out of town this past weekend, I was jonesing for my chocolate. I hadn't taken any with me, for fear of it melting during the trip, and there is a serious dearth of good food in Myrtle Beach. Then PMS hit, and I was feeling a tad desperate.
We looked in the phone book for local coffee houses and dessert shops, and had little luck with either (apparently, everthing in Myrtle Beach is a chain). On Sunday night though, I found myself in a Starbucks on Ocean Boulevard, where I got a cup of passable coffee and found two hapless clerks who gave us conflicting directions on where to find a chocolate shop. The more credible-sounding of the two sent us to Broadway at the Beach, a complicated maze of shops amidst a meandering parking lot. We drove in circles for about 10 minutes, steadfast in our resolve to leave only with chocolate in hand. Odd Toddler happily gurgled away in the backseat, having a conversation with himself about every car and truck in the surrounding vicinity while The Carnivore and I snarked at each other, squinting to read the names of all the shops. Finally there was a triumphant sound from the driver's seat, and we parked behind River Street Sweets, a chocolate shop from River Street in Savannah that I was familiar with from a trip long, long ago.
Odd Toddler, who was close to his bedtime and who did not, under any circumstances, need to be aware of what I was purchasing, went with The Carnivore to explore a lighthouse. I sailed into the store, wallet open, eager to get my fix. There was fudge, truffles, pralines, bear claws, vat after vat of sweet candies, and only ONE clerk on duty. I got stuck in line behind a pregnant lady (argh - leave some for me, darnit), where I shuffled impatiently from foot to foot, trying to pare down my list so that we wouldn't go broke. Finally at the front of the line, I exercised moderation, ordering two lonely pieces of fudge and two impossibly tiny truffles.
We went back to the condo, wrestled Odd Toddler to sleep and then opened the bag of chocolates just as the season finale of Desperate Housewives was coming on. I bit into the tiramisu truffle and heaven exploded on my tongue. For a split second there, I was sure life could get no better. An ocean breeze was coming in off the balcony, there was sand stuck between my happy toes, and I was the proud owner, if for only sixty brief seconds, of the most beautiful truffle on earth. Alas, the ecstasy was over far too soon. And disapointment soon overtook our little party. The fudge was, well, lousy. The texture was odd, the sweetness was overpowering and the aftertaste was cloying. I scrunched up my nose and pouted. Maybe I had turned into a dark chocolate freak, and everything else was too sweet for me now? Was I becoming a food snob? Heaven forbid.
On the way out of town the next morning, The Carnivore steered us back to River Street Sweets, determined to get a bear claw (apparently I should have been able to read his mind and known that he wanted one when he sent me into the store alone the night before with NO requests). This time, the whole family went in. Odd Toddler lit up when he saw the gumballs (no food snob is he), and since he was in the arms of The Carnivore, he ended up with a bag full of them. I narrowed my eyes, but Odd Toddler grinned at me and pointed to the gumballs he was clutching tight to his chest. "Big balls!" he chortled.
I had planned to only get a couple more truffles, and The Carnivore claimed to only want a bear claw, but the geniuses of marketing were too smart for us. Samples abounded. The lady by the window who was making candy on site smiled and offered us a taste of pralines. I reached out nonchalantly, sure I would be even less impressed than I had been with the taste of pecan log that I received coming in the door. But then I popped the nondescript beige nugget of fresh praline, still warm from the oven, into my mouth and I almost fainted with pleasure. It dissolved on my tongue, the taste sending me hurtling back through time 25 years until I was in elementary school again, standing in The French Quarter in New Orleans, begging my cash-strapped mother for another "praw-leen." The word itself must be drawled, not clipped off, and never, ever, pronounced "pray-leen," unless, of course, it doesn't taste quite right.
And so we spent more money than we should have, although I will dismiss the expense in the interest of research. After all, I must taste-test so I get ideas on what recipes to tackle next. Six hours later, we were back home and I was climbing my stepladder to get the 1979-1996 Index of Southern Living recipes, paging madly to get to the praline recipe list. I ended up in my chair last night, weighted down by 15 years of Southern Living Annual Recipe books, reading each and discarding the books one by one until I had narrowed it down to the New Orleans Praline recipe from the 1986 collection. I know what project I'll be working on this weekend...