The Bittersweet

I watched a little of the USEF Dressage Championships the other day and smiled wistfully as a flood of memories of my daughters’ childhoods came back. I remembered their first riding lessons and the huge smiles they produced as they mastered the posting trot. I remembered all the days in the barn, talking, working and laughing breathing in that wonderful smell of sweet hay and horse listening to them munch on their grain and sigh as we got them all settled for the night. When my daughter competed at Regional’s and the announcer (a voice we’ve all heard at hundreds of sporting events) announced her and her horse’s names and they regally entered the competition ring, I thought my heart would burst. What a gorgeous pair they were! I’ll never forget sitting under the huge oak tree on a crisp fall day watching my two girls ride smiling and laughing together, out in the field, side by side. I remember thinking how perfect that moment was and tried hard to etch every detail of it into my memory forever. I watched their skill (and them) grow and our days at the barn mirror so many of life’s struggles: winning, losing, injuries (both horse and human), determination, discipline and steadfast love to go to the barn at all hours, perhaps several times a day, to tend to a wound or change a blanket. I knew, even in the midst of these moments, how much I would miss them and treasure them once they were gone.

I thought, “Certainly, without question, those were the happiest times of my life.” and then realized that, conversely, it was also the most painful and frustrating time of my life, as my marriage was just never what it should have been. How strange, that the best and the worst were happening simultaneously – – – bitter and sweet.

A very health conscious coworker came to me, the office foodie, to tell me about the chocolate she had bought for her husband. She had read that dark or bittersweet chocolate was more healthful than the milk variety. Her husband sometimes likes to indulge in a piece or two in the evenings so she bought him a bar labeled 100% cacao . . . . . baking chocolate! The poor man screwed up his face, sputtered and coughed and simply said, “I just can’t do it, honey.”

Unsweetened chocolate, as its name indicates, contains absolutely no added sugar. This is what you give your spouse if you want to make them suffer. Bittersweet chocolate has anywhere from about 10% to 50% sugar. Because of the difference in sugar content, these two types of chocolate are not interchangeable in recipes.

The good news is this: bittersweet and semisweet are very similar. Bittersweet chocolate is often now labeled “dark chocolate” and clearly lists the percentage of chocolate. That percentage tells you how sweet the chocolate will be: chocolate labeled “70% chocolate” contains 30% sugar, “60% chocolate” contains 40% sugar, and so on.  Semisweet chocolate tends to be higher in sugar than bittersweet or dark chocolate, but there can be overlap.

Semisweet is a chocolate that plays well with others while bittersweet chocolate really shines in a recipe where the chocolate is truly the star player, like Bittersweet Truffles or Chocolate Pots de Crème.

As a child, I never understood when an adult would say something was “too sweet”. “How can that be? Are they nuts?!!” Sweet is awesome! But as we mature, usually, our palate does, as well, and we require flavors that aren’t just simply one thing. Maybe, as time and our experiences accumulate, we grow to appreciate more sophisticated flavor palates that actually mimic real life: savory, salty/sweet and bitter/sweet. Solely one or the other – too bitter or too sweet are almost unbearable. The trick is to find the balance as the bitter (or salty) only intensifies the sweetness.

It’s bittersweet knowing that you’ve done such a good job raising your kids that they don’t need you anymore. They’ve spread their beautiful wings and are out in the world being the independent, self-reliant adults you always hoped they would, but as a result you don’t get to talk to them or see them nearly as often as you’d like. With each sweet celebration of a horse or other pet that comes into your life – or anyone you love, for that matter – looms the bitter day you have to say goodbye. Like a fine chocolate, let the bitter intensify the sweetness making us truly present and appreciative of every moment.





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