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Chocoholics Beware

Lemon might be gaining on you

By Ruth Moose

A chocoholic I am not. On a desserts table with lots of chocolate and other dark delights I can take or leave the chocolate stuff. I leave it for those who would kill their own mother for a bite of anything chocolate. Not me. I don’t even, forgive me friends, like Oreos. No. Never. I must be in the minority everywhere.

A friend told me that once in the ditch of despair during a diet, and dying for chocolate, she had not trusted herself to have even the least bit of chocolate of any kind in her house. Then, in sheer desperation, she climbed high and hunted deep in every corner of every cabinet and finally hidden behind rusted tins of Old Bay and boxes of baking soda, she laid her hands on a long forgotten and now dusty can of pure cocoa. She pried off the lid and dug in, eating every smidge with her bare hand then licking her fingers. That’s desperation. That, my friends, is a chocoholic!

I grew up with good Scottish people who, if it came to the last crumb on the plate, would fight over a caramel layer cake or, even better, a brown sugar pound cake with burnt sugar icing. I’ve seen it happen at church picnics and potluck dinners.

In a show of support for anything other than chocolate I once entered a cupcake contest sponsored by the Chapel Hill Historical Society. First prize, $100. I wanted to see if something, anything, could beat chocolate.

So I spent some weeks developing a lemon cupcake. Not just any old lemon cupcake but an over-the-top and knock-your-senses-to-the-moon lemon cupcake. I mixed. I baked. I tasted. I added. I subtracted. Until I finally ended up with marinating some mango and embedding it in the middle. I made a lemon icing, fluffy and tart, and in a flourish, sprinkled on shredded coconut. It even looked prize winning.

On the day of judging the downtown historic house had three rooms filled with tables full of cupcakes. Rows, double and triple deep, with cupcakes. Every kind of chocolate. It was chocolate heaven. The air felt heavy with the scent of chocolate, so heavy you could taste it when you breathed in.

I felt very small, greatly outnumbered, and wished I had never in a million years decided to take on the world of chocolate. I was a very small David in a room filled with cocoa Goliaths. Until, out in the front yard, filled with cupcake lovers who paid $10 for as many as they could eat, the judges announced their decisions. Third went, of course, to one of the many, many chocolate cupcakes. No surprise.

I held my breath and hugged the tiny amount of hope I still had left. Second went to . . . Shaggy Lemon Cupcakes with Marinated Mango in the Middle. Mine! I got a fancy, official award certificate and a $25 gift card from a local stationery shop. Later, one of the losers said to me out of the corner of her mouth, “Your title’s what won it.”

I didn’t care. Lemon had placed. Lemon had beaten out chocolate.

The first prize, the big prize winning cupcake — when it was announced and the 13-year-old girl went up to claim her award and get her $100 check — was a plain-Jane vanilla cupcake with plain vanilla icing. After gasping, the applause was wide and astonished. Not only had lemon beaten out chocolate, vanilla had, too. The judges praised the texture of the vanilla cupcake and, of course, the delicate but absolutely perfect flavor of vanilla.

So there you go, chocoholics. You may outnumber those of us of other persuasions, but we still sometimes win a prize or two. Sometimes.  PS

Ruth Moose taught creative writing at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for 15 years and tacked on 10 more at Carolina Central Community College.