This past Christmas, I decided to thrill my friends with the gift of "a little bit of heaven." I wanted to savor the Christmas spirit, especially since last year was so hurried. And I wanted my friends to have something special to savor as well. So, I mixed a cup of chopped, roasted almonds and pecans with a half cup of dried cherries and blueberries. Then, I melted 3 ounces of dark chocolate pieces over a very, very low flame. I added the nuts and fruit along with another 3 ounces of the same chocolate, broken into pieces. I stirred it until it was all melted and clumpy together, then I scooped out tablespoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet, and I stuck it in my refrigerator. I had made chocolate candy! Although I felt for a split second like I had mastered the art of fine chocolate, I soon came to my senses and just decided to get more creative with that simple little recipe. So, I continued to experiment, and each time I made it, I found another delicious way to experience "chocolate" - different nuts, adding spices, coconut, and even some small pieces of candied ginger and unsweetened cocoa nibs (roasted pieces of cocoa beans). For Valentine's Day, I plan to continue my chocolate experience. I am not eating a lot of flour containing foods these days, so I am excited to try our glazed, flourless chocolate cake. It gets so many luscious comments. With the focus of Valentine's Day on the heart, it's fun to know that a piece of good quality chocolate is actually heart healthy. ("Good quality" being the operative words there!) Chocolate contains stearic acid, a saturated fat that does not raise total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol. It also contains oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that is the same kind of fat you find in olive oil. This can help raise HDL cholesterol. Experts agree that when it comes to choosing chocolate, the darker the better. Less sugar and more antioxidants! This is good news for diabetics and any of us cutting back on sugar and watching our weight. I recommend dark chocolate that contains over 60% cocoa, either plain, or in all of its many varieties. And a little bit goes a long way. Hmmm...let me repeat that. A little bit goes a long way. I teach my clients and students the value of returning to a diet based on whole and real food. For people used to eating packaged and processed food, this is a strange concept. Universally, though, everyone wants food to provide pleasure as well as nourishment. I believe there is always a place in a healthy diet for a little something sweet. A small chunk of fine dark chocolate, savored slowly is ideal. It satisfies the desire for something sweet and it has its own unique way to soothe the soul. So, go ahead and enjoy chocolate in moderation. At the end of a meal, slowly melt a square of your favorite dark chocolate in your mouth. For variety, add a small sliver of your favorite cheese or a simple cup of hot mint tea. You can also stir your favorite dark chocolate into a glass of hot milk, dairy or non-dairy. Add some vanilla. And for a warming winter treat, grate a little fresh ginger root into a mug and pour steaming hot chocolate over it. A long time ago, I remember hearing that no problem is so big or so great that it can't be run away from. I would laugh at this and wonder "how the heck can you run away?" It wasn't until I had my first taste of fine, dark, salty-sweet chocolate with roasted hazelnuts, that I understood. My little chocolate journey didn't make my problems go away, but it sure made them easier to face! Do you share my passion for good chocolate? Let me know your story.