Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder


I haven’t eaten chocolate in three years and five months - 41 months. After acid reflux reared its ugly head, and I took a trip to the ER to make sure I wasn’t dying, I changed my diet. Since chocolate was at the top of my "this will cause reflux" list, I stopped it, cold turkey. I gave birth; I can survive this, I told myself. But I had drugs during childbirth. There’s no prescription patch to be worn while trying to quit chocolate. I steeled my resolve, took a deep breath, and broke up with Russell (Stover). Which was problematic since, in every other break-up I’d ever endured, Russell was my comforter.

Twenty-four hours after my sacrifice to the GERD God, I was strolling down the candy aisle at Walmart. I needed to see chocolate, to be close to chocolate. “I need a whiff of the good stuff,” I explained to the employee who watched as I held a Three Musketeers up to my nose. “It will help me get through the day.” As I walked away, I said goodbye to packages of Bliss and hello to heartbreak. Driving home, with tears in my eyes, I longed for Hugs and Kisses from Hershey.

By Day Three, I understood why some people can eat chocolate-covered ants. Because they’re covered in chocolate. It doesn’t matter what’s underneath; the secret to a happy life is in the coating.

I’ll lose a lot of weight, I encouraged myself. I’ll be healthier, if not happier. I’ll be slimmer.

But by Day Seven, my resolve wavered. I was lonely. I was sad. I was ready to have an affair with Snickers; he always made me laugh. I broke the speed of light getting back to that candy aisle. There he was – along with all his miniature friends – waiting for my arrival. Who would know? I wouldn’t be hurting anyone; a little rebellion is okay.

Then I flashed back to that ER trip. Was a moment of pleasure worth the fluttering of reflux down deep inside? Yes, it was. But I refrained anyway; I thought perhaps once my reflux settled down after a few weeks, I could get back together with chocolate. I looked around at all the other candies on display, the kind of candies I was always disappointed to find in my trick-or-treat basket as a kid. Maybe I should give them another chance, I reasoned.

I opened a package of Starburst fruit chews and ate all the red and pink ones. They were better than I’d remembered. Next, I savored a bag of Maple Nut Goodies. Suddenly, I was transported from the World of Self-Deprivation to the Land of Other Flavors. Oh sure, I’d dabbled in other flavors before, but had never made a serious commitment. Until then. I realized, for the first time, how beautiful sugar is in all forms. Red and yellow, black and white – all morsels were all precious in my sight. For the first time in 168 hours, I had hope.

After seven months of my new life, I wasn’t slimmer. But I was happy.

Then, my birthday hit. I’d never celebrated without Hershey or Russell or any of their kind. Duncan Hines always brought his delicious milk chocolate frosting for my cakes. It wouldn’t be much of a birthday without those guys.

But my other guy, Flash, took up the gauntlet to meet the challenge of making a non-chocolate birthday cake. He’s a brave man in the kitchen.

"I found some great ways to make gluten-free cake better," he announced.

"What do you mean? It always tastes fine to me."

"No, it’s always too dry. I need to make it moister.”

I decided to not be insulted at his sweeping commentary on the cakes I’d been making for over a decade. But I was a little afraid of being his guinea pig.

“How are you going to make it moister? If you use too much coconut oil, it won’t hold together.”

“No, not more oil. Applesauce and mayo.”

From somewhere deep in the universe, I heard Betty Crocker scream.

“Mayo? Mayo? I've heard of using applesauce, but you’re going to put a sandwich condiment - a salad dressing - in a cake?”

"Trust me."

Trust him. With baking experimentation on my birthday. He had the same gleam in his eyes he gets when he uses duct tape to fix something around the house. He was ready to repair a cake mix, for better or worse. Cowboy was his innocent minion in the process, being trained to think outside the cake box. Trembling, I left the house; I couldn’t bear to watch the condiment fiasco. Not only would my birthday be chocolate-free, my cake would taste like salad.

Three hours later, I returned to a huge four-layer round cake with buttercream lava cascading down its unlevel sides. I thought of Richard Dreyfuss’ obsession with the shape of Devils Tower National Monument in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and wondered if my cake could be a sign of aliens in my kitchen.

Flash and Cowboy were beaming as they carried the cake to the dining room table; it took both of them to lift it. I eyed the monstrosity, as well as the five empty frosting containers on the kitchen counter. After dinner, it was time for slicing, which revealed yet more frosting between the layers. Which was okay since I’d never been a big fan of cake; I was a frosting person.

I took three cleansing breaths, brought a forkful to my mouth, and prepared to be disappointed.

Instead, I had a Green Eggs and Ham revelation. I’d misjudged the potential of buttercream icing on a yellow mayo cake; it was love at first bite. And the cake was better than the frosting. I was stunned. Flash’s masterpiece had the consistency of pound cake, but each piece weighed eight pounds. It was so moist, it left puddles of deliciousness on my plate.

I was impressed. So was my Michelangelo; he was basking in the glow of his I-told-you-so moment.

By the following night, the cake was gone.

“I’m making another cake,” Flash announced.

“What? Another mayo cake? That thing had a million calories. I’ll need to wash it down with some Lipitor. Why on earth are you making another one?”

“I had only one piece.”

Surely, he miscounted. 

“You did not have just one piece. Let’s see, Cowboy had two pieces, you had two pieces, I had a few small pieces.”

“I had only one piece.”

“There’s no way I ate all but four pieces of a cake the size of Mount Rushmore.” Yet, math doesn’t lie. Unless, of course, it’s the new math that’s being taught, that has no absolute answers. But we were using old math for the cake, where 16-4 = 12 pieces of cake, now multiplying fat cells exponentially on my thighs.

“Flash, we’ll gain weight.”

“Well, I won’t, since I have a history of only one piece per cake. And I need to improve my recipe.”

“It was great. What’s to improve?”

“The ratio of mayo to applesauce needs to be tweaked.”

The second cake was bigger than the first; I partook of only eight pieces, spaced out within a 48-hour time period.

“It wasn’t quite right,” Flash critiqued. “I think I’ve got it now. It needs more mayo. I’m making a third cake.” I changed into my yoga pants, taking off any undergarments that might bind during the Third Wave. I quit counting after my ninth piece.

Since that bake-off three years ago, I’ve continued to indulge in all flavors of desserts. Even vanilla, formerly referred to as the plain-woman’s choice.

In the meantime, what began as a temporary break from chocolate has become my unwritten manifesto. My mission in life. I had to see how long I could go without it. It’s been my equivalent to winning the Ultimate Fighting Championship of the food world. The cravings subsided after the first two months, and I’ve been fine since. Until three weeks ago.

My chocolate-covered biological clock is ticking. Every night, I dream I’m floating in that chocolate river in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I sniffed at least 15 boxes of Russell in the clearance aisle after Valentine’s Day. Soon, stores will be stocked with chocolate bunnies and Robin Eggs. Constant reminders of the relationship I had with cocoa are everywhere. It’s a never-ending pain. Rather than being eradicated after such a long separation, my love is growing stronger over time. My life is incomplete; I need to be well-rounded. And I need to think of what this is doing to chocolate; it’s not fair for him to sit on a shelf, untouched. Soon, we will be reunited.

But it must be a reunion of monumental proportions. One little candy bar will not do. I must find decadence worthy of breaking my fast. Chocolate mousse? The piece of Italian chocolate that’s been in my freezer since 2013? Perhaps a chocolate mayo cake? Or fudge – God’s answer to the question, “What’s the meaning of life?”

And so, I continue my search. It may entail a trip to The Chocolate Bar, a heavenly place in Houston’s Rice Village that my friends Java and Gidget introduced me to several years ago. Java bought me my first chocolate shot there – a shot glass filled with pure dark chocolate and cream. It took weeks to come down from that sugar buzz.

Whatever my final choice, it will be perfection. All will be right with the world. What’s a little reflux, anyway? Sometimes, love hurts. I’ll practice moderation. I’ll eat it with Maalox. Or from a box. Or in a bar, or from a jar. Or in a cake, or in a shake. Hey, I’ll even eat it on a snake.

However, I won’t return to chocolate, to the exclusion of other flavors; I’m now an equal-opportunity indulger. There’s room in my life for all my loves. But I’ll never again forsake my first love.