Last month when I wrote my column here I was just about to head off to spend a week in New York City.
The one thing I knew I would be doing was attending a wedding. I fully expected to get lots of lovely research for my upcoming books from that experience -- and I am not disappointed.
But I was going to be there several more days and I wanted to get some research in. It was not specific to a particular story as the research I did in September was when I went there to spend time at Columbia University and get a feel for what my hero might be doing there (he taught physics after doing something far more dangerous in his previous life).
No, this time I was was trolling for future ideas -- sort of deliberately looking for those "ideas" that are everywhere that we authors ostensibly have no trouble finding when we are "getting our ideas."
Pretty much that's true. But sometimes a bit of judicious seeking out of venues and wandering around in neighborhoods primes the authorial pump, so to speak.
This time as no different.
One of the things I mentioned last month was that there were lots of walking tours of New York available.
Whatever you might think you are interested in about New York City, chances are someone has developed a walking tour that will help you learn more about it.
My friend Nancy and I had no trouble deciding which tour caught our eye. I mean, revolutionary war New York and Mark Twain's New York and The Ladies' Mile are all well and good. But really, would you take them instead of The Chocolate Tour?
No. Me, neither.
So we didn't. And bright and semi-early on Saturday morning we headed south to meet our guide and find out about some of the interesting specialty chocolatiers in Soho, Tribeca and the West Village.
As luck would have it, it was a blustery cold but clear day. A day in which 8 million or so other people had other things to do than go on chocolate tours. So Nancy and I got our very own guided tour -- just us!
We started out at Jacques Torres' shop in the West Village. It was the week before Easter and everyone at Jacques Torres's shop was in high gear preparing of the biggest weekend of the year. The bunnies were amazing. The baskets were beautiful. The chocolate was intense. We got a couple of deliberately chosen pieces which we took home to divide and savor. We were also given a small cup of extremely high content cocoa (like 68% as I recall) made with milk. It was powerful stuff.
But the most memorable part of Jacques Torres's shop was his take on Peeps.
They were dipped in chocolate, decorated with bow ties and dots for buttons and called Chirp N Dales. They were not only handsome, they were (trust me) delicious!
I didn't eat my Chirps there. I took them home with me. I might have left them to petrify on my kitchen shelf (next to my glass bottle of CocaCola from the 100th anniversary of the death of Judge Isaac Parker -- the hangin' judge -- of Fort Smith, Arkansas -- don't ask -- but the bottle has a longer shelf life than a bunch of peeps. And really, who could resist?)
Our guide, who was doing his first time at this particular tour himself, was a chef and had some interesting things to say about chocolate as we wandered from Jacques' across the bottom of Manhattan, stopping at a tiny Korean chocolate shop where five people could not fit in at the same time.
The owner and chocolatier was there to talk a bit about the very small batches of intense chocolates that she makes. And we chose, as a part of our bounty, a "creme brulee" chocolate that she insisted we would not be able to split.
"It is a single mouthful. It's too liquid. You will not be able to share it," she said.
But we brought it home, frozen it overnight, and split it very nice the next day. We are nothing if not resourceful. It was absolutely ambrosial.
Our next stop was a far cry from the tiny Korean shop. It looked positively European. Marie Belle's is full of exquisite chocolates of all descriptions, many decorated with tiny individual designs made by the her husband, a graphic artist. The rows of gaily colored chocolates in old-fashioned glass display cases were as visually appealing as they were mouth-watering.
We chose chocolates infused with saffron and cardamom, and had another with a hint of dulce de leche and one with lemon. Here we also got our second taste of hot chocolate -- this a 70% cacao mixture made with water. Definitely intense. It still raises the hairs on the back of my neck.
We also went back after the tour and had lunch at the small dining room in the back of Marie Belle's. Not chocolate, but definitely highly recommended. It was a treat.
A few blocks further on we were introduced to another chocolatier who introduced us to bacon and chocolate. Sounds rather weird, but was surprisingly tasty. Though I must admit that I was fonder of their take on what I would call English toffee.
The last stop was a little cheesecake factory -- not chocolate at all. But what they did with chocolate had to be tasted to be believed. We each got to pick a small one to take home. Nancy had one with all sorts of chocolate on it -- I think it was referred to as a "Rocky Road" cheesecake (though I don't remember marshmallow).
Mine was a key lime with white chocolate. I am not really a huge fan of cheesecake, but this could seriously have made me think I'd died and gone to heaven.
What exactly I'm going to do with all this wonderful information in a book remains to be seen. But I am confident I'll think of something.
I'm thinking a Chirp N Dale would make a good hero.