I’ve been feeling restless for the past couple of days. The kind of restlessness that makes me want to head for the hills. But instead of the hills, I decided to finally make that sixty-mile pilgrimage to Encinitas, something I’ve been promising myself ever since I spent Christmas week down there with my son, his family and in-laws in a rented house a couple of blocks from the beach. Communal living and cooking at its best, along with visits to La Jolla Sea Caves, perched within a 75-million-year-old sandstone sea cliff and a trip to San Diego Zoo. But it wasn’t the latter attractions that drew me back to Encinitas. It was Chuao chocolates, located in a sliver of a shopping center along Pacific Coast Highway. I even like saying the word: Choowow.My son’s sister-in-law and I stumbled across the shop on my last day. She’s a chocolate gourmand. Me? Here, read what I posted on Chuao’s Facebook site when I entered their contest. The prize was a weekend in gorgeous, expensive La Jolla, all expenses paid.
“Never mind all that contest stuff. I NEVER win anything. And though I like chocolate, I’m not going out of my way for it, because I’m usually disappointed. I’m saddled with a super-duper-gourmet-chocolate palate and nothing but the best will do. Nothing. And I’m here to tell you, your chocolate is The Best!! So, in the unlikely event I do win, I’ll take my winnings in chocolate, if it’s all the same to you Chuao people.”
Needless to say I didn’t win. But I meant every word. My seduction began that day with a sample of rosemary salted caramel in dark chocolate, which I almost refused. I like my chocolate solid and dark, no gooey truffles or cream centers. But I couldn’t resist those dark gleaming shapes with exotic names, so perfectly lined up in the glass cases, so I took a bite into the crisp hard chocolate shell. It gave a loud satisfying snap, followed by an earthy caramelly salt-tinged surprise that did a slip-sliding boogie in my mouth. I wanted more. But I couldn’t decide. So I let the young woman behind the counter choose her favorites for me. To my great regret I only bought five—what if the sample had been a fluke?
When I got home, I tried another chocolate, this time the Firecracker Truffle—caramel chipotle fudge and a touch of salt exploding with layers of popping candy and dark chocolate. Ecstasy. Two in a row. I held off on the next chocolate and the next, teasing myself, until a week later when they were all gone, I realized what a fool I’d been. I had to go back. But I didn’t. I had a rewrite to finish, three essays to complete for my class, critiques of my fellow writers’ stories, social marketing and what about my next book?
So now, here I was three months later back in Encinitas driven by a spurt of restlessness, along with Fergie and Jake. Throughout the journey, he’d done his usual jumping back and forth between the car’s front and back seats, while Fergie sat wide-eyed on the blanket in the back.
It was only when I walked into the shop and saw all the signs I realized that this was the first day of Spring. So that’s what the restlessness had been about. I bought the “Breakfast in Bed Collection,” each chocolate neatly arranged in a narrow wooden box and tied with a yellow ribbon: Java, Maple Bacon, Orange Bliss, French Toast and Rose Garden. And then I bought seven other single bonbons, two of which were Firecracker Truffles, along with a Spiced Napa Valley Cabernet that the woman slipped into a small mocha-colored bag.
On the way home, I impetuously swung into a nursery in San Juan Capistrano. A couple of spring plants were in order. It took me longer than I expected, but the dogs were in the shade and Fergie had stopped her wolf-like yipping. Back at the house, I parked the car and reached down for the bag I’d placed on the passenger-side floor. One Firecracker Truffle coming up. But the little mocha-colored bag was empty, no longer bulging tantalizingly with promise, no signs of forced entry, not even one chocolate crumb. The “Breakfast in Bed Collection” box with its yellow ribbon, lay undisturbed at angle nearby. I dove down and checked under the seat, lifted the floor mat, my wallet and patted around under my own seat then stopped and slowly rose. Of course. Fergie and Jake. I glanced in the rear view mirror for telltale signs of chocolate around furry snouts. They were both pressed against the back door waiting to get out.
“Damn,” I muttered. “What an idiot I am.”
Jake sprang into the passenger seat and stared anxiously at me. Can’t say damn around him, he’s sensitive that way. “Darn,” I said correcting myself. And then it struck me, it had been Jake and only him who’d helped himself to my Chuaos. Fergie was too scared to negotiate the jump to the front seat.“So, how were the Firecrackers, babe?”
He licked my face. I tried to catch a whiff of chocolate. I just hoped he wasn’t allergic to it. Well, at least I still had my “Breakfast in Bed Collection.”Just so’s you know. I have nothing to do with the chocolatiers, nothing to gain.