We are already well into February and you cannot escape the fact that chocolate season is now upon us. With the advent of Valentine’s Day tomorrow to kick it off, the season will last until the final days of Easter. Until then, we will be less stalked by the vast array of ‘occasion’ chocolates for sale in every place imaginable. But just in case we were unaware that it is chocolate season, the media has kindly reminded us by featuring some chocolate-themed news items.
First there were many column inches dedicated to chocolate giant Cadbury’s to publicise the announcement and mega launch of their new Milk Tray man. Originally seen in advertising campaigns in the 1960’s as the handsome, daring yet sophisticated gentleman who went to extreme lengths just to deliver a box of chocolates to his woman, by the 90’s he was all but a naff distant memory. But Cadbury’s recognised the growing need for a Milk Tray man revival, perhaps because they were concerned about women. Thus, a national competition was held to find the new Milk Tray man of the 21st century. Fortunately for us all, the search for the modern day hero was over when a Liverpudlian firefighter bravely stepped up to the challenge. And like the happy ending of a fairy tale (or reality show), he successfully beat off over 20,000 others in a chocolate-carrying black polo neck wearing battle of suaveness. We are sure to see him on tv soon demonstrating some chocolate carrying parkour and I have also read that in another effort to update the ad campaign, it has been rumoured that the famous slogan ‘All because the lady loves Milk Tray’ will be replaced by ‘Love with a lighter touch’. However, I am not sure that a Milk Tray man slinking around will be enough to distract watchful health campaigners from the chocolate’s ‘lighter’ tag.
Also in the news is Nestle’s KitKat who have launched another new flavour in Japan and this time it’s alcohol-inspired. Sake Kitkat, anyone? You may already be familiar with some of the 19 other regional flavours exclusive to Japan such as wasabi, cheesecake, green tea and sweet potato. However, adding alcohol is definitely a first for the chocolate fingers, as they are normally sold worldwide to children. Nestle Japan has justified introducing the new flavour by saying that the white chocolate covered KitKats are not marketed at children at all but they are aimed at tourists and businessmen. After all, they might look like all KitKats with a picture of the chocolate snapped to show the inside but there’s also a picture of a massive sake bottle. Where’s the confusion? Nestle Japan have also said that as the chocolate fingers contain 0.8% alcohol, ‘children and lightweight drinkers’ are kindly requested that they do not consume them. I wonder how many children in the UK would refrain from consuming chocolate when kindly requested? Perhaps that is where our obesity strategy is going wrong.
In any case, reading about chocolate in the news and the onslaught of Valentine’s Day and Easter themed chocolate buying opportunities has left me with a first world chocolate problem at home. The dilemma is, how can I possibly buy chocolate for Valentine’s Day when our house is still full of leftover chocolate from Christmas? Yes, that’s right, like a chocolate elephant in the room, we have several unopened boxes that just sit on some shelves, ignored. You would think that just having 3 active, growing teenagers would have prevented such a situation. After all, they empty the fridge daily with such determination that it is frankly, admirable. Surely, by now, everything that is chocolate-based should have already been inhaled by them. However, every February we are inevitably faced with a chocolate avalanche.
Our mountain of chocolate starts to assemble in mid-December, when chocolate gifts from work first begin to be appear at home and are put aside ‘for the holidays’. Then the schools start to wind down which prompts my children to suddenly realise that they have to buy chocolate gifts for their mates. Predictably, they will wait until it is very late one evening to let me know that we urgently need to go shopping. Off we head out to a large supermarket with bad lighting with some very detailed lists of friends’ chocolate likes and dislikes. We end up spending far too much time pacing the aisles among other harassed families holding sweetie lists who look equally shell-shocked to find themselves there. After hunting down the requested chocolates I then buy a shopping trolley full of shame where despite my embarrassed ‘They’re not for us!’ at the checkout, no one believes me. Once home, these chocolates do not join the chocolate mountain but are packed into rucksacks so they can be safely deployed to school the next day. However, at school the chocolates seem to multiply like viral BOGOF offers and my children end up bringing home many times more than what they left with and the chocolate mountain builds.
The chocolate mountain continues to grow even more when Christmas comes and we receive more chocolates from friends, family and the fat guy with the sack. And this is probably also the point at which the Christmas meal takes over and things get a bit complicated. This is because there are not only chocolates to eat but also festive biscuits, fruit cake and mince pies among other indulgent homemade Christmas treats. And did I mention a birthday cake? Yes, my daughter celebrates her birthday on Boxing Day and every year I make a cake which is always some variation of chocolate. And then we hit chocolate critical mass because she also receives among other presents, what most teenagers routinely give to their friends—more chocolate, of course.
By then it is all too much because there is only so much you can eat and in our house, homemade always wins over anything stamped with a best before date. As a result, all the chocolate gets put aside in fear of being relegated to pudding 2nd division. I am ashamed to say that it even gets forgotten about when the New Year begins although every now and then one of us will produce a box of ‘I didn’t know we had these!’. So once again we find ourselves in February with still too much chocolate and the question of Valentine’s Day has been raised.
My suggestion of giving away some of the Christmas chocolate was met with outrage. But my solution of using all the leftover chocolate as ingredients for brownies didn’t go down any better. I have tried to wean my children off Valentine’s Day over the years and have explained that it is normally a day that parents might give each other chocolates, not their children. However, this has only been met with protests of unfairness as they have previously taken part in the gastronomic festivities of Valentine’s Day.
So I am left with less than 24hrs left before chocolate season has fully launched, and I still haven’t decided what to do. Do I refuse to buy anything this year and let my children go cold turkey? It is a very tempting idea…to take back Valentine’s Day once and for all. After all, Valentine’s Day is about romance, not chocolate. I think that I will have to keep strong to finally wrestle back this holiday from my children. I just hope I won’t crack and find myself up tonight melting down all of the leftover chocolate into a massive chocolate heart.
Chocolate aside, for our Valentine’s Day breakfast we will be having one of my new favourite muffins, Cornmeal strawberry muffins with almonds. I recommend having them with more strawberries to sandwich them.