Spring is officially here. Even if it wasn't 70 degrees outside, I'd know it. I woke up this morning, and stepped on something soft and squishy in the living room. I assumed it was a cat toy; it was, in fact, a dead mouse. So, I got to wash my hands and feet very early, and then pick up what remained of my rodential visitor. I noticed that his fur was rather wet, so I assumed Shiva licked him to death. However, it proves to me that Shiva (a male cat) can kill a mouse without female help. So, good for Shiva. I apologized to the mouse as I dropped him into the garbage can. Not a very hospitable way to treat guests. On the other hand, if you're a mouse stupid enough to break into a house with 3 cats...
But finding mice in the house isn't the only sign of Spring. I find myself thinking about chocolate, and not just any chocolate. It's the kind of chocolate that comes out around Easter time; you see brands of chocolate that never appear any other time of year. For those of you who may not experience this chocolate, let me give you an idea of where it fits in on the "chocolate scale".
First, think of European chocolate. I never actually buy this chocolate when I'm in Europe, though I've received it from others--as a gift of exquisite Belgian chocolates from a former boyfriend when he was on business overseas, a gift of German marzipan from a Croatian Fulbright scholar visiting my classes, and the various French and German chocolates brought to me by one of my best friends when she heads over to Europe for her school's foreign exchange. In the States, we have Lindt chocolate, which is Swiss, and then there is the ever-present Cadbury's, which is probably considered cheap chocolate next to these others, but still a cut above most American chocolates. European chocolate is to be enjoyed while standing around at upscale parties, enjoyed with a fine dessert wine like port. This is not the chocolate (except maybe Cadbury's) that you eat while sitting around in your PJs watching the tube. It's too good for that, and the chocolates will avenge their dignity by flinging themselves out of the box and onto the floor, preferring suicide to such plebian treatment.
The next level is high-quality American chocolate. Hershey's is the big name--there are Hershey Bars (milk chocolate and with almonds), Mr. Goodbar, Krackel, Special Dark, Hershey's Kisses, M&M's, and the purely evil Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The latter are at least as evil as girl scout cookies. There is also Nestle chocolate, slightly less popular, but a reasonable competitor nonetheless. (Technically, Nestle is not American, but many of the things they produce that we are familiar with are only produced here.) No one would confuse this chocolate with fine European chocolate, or even put it on the same table. Nonetheless, it is quite respectable, and is enjoyed in many versatile settings. I should also note that these chocolates don't discriminate against children--fine European chocolate is typically only shared among adults, because if kids don't like the chocolate's filling, they will tend to spit it out ignobly in disgust.
The next level is the kind of boxed chocolate that seems to reproduce in drug stores. Russell Stover's and Whitman's are good examples. The quality is usually 50/50--some of their chocolates are excellent (Read as: Russell Stover's French chocolate mints), others are more mediocre. I should note that both Russell Stover's and Whitman's should be asked to cease and desist from labeling anything they make as containing "peanut butter". These products do not contain peanut butter. They contain this rubbery substance with a vague peanut flavor which is not fit for human consumption. Still, they have been bought as last minute birthday, anniversary, get well, and good luck gifts for people who forgot about said events, and they are always located within reasonable reach of the greeting cards.
The lowest level of chocolate, the "Thunderbird wine" of the group, is the kind of chocolate you see at Easter only. Palmer's is the most notable example. They make solid and hollow chocolate bunnies, and sometimes even filled chocolate eggs, though I dread to think of what might be inside of them. This chocolate is made deliciously palatable while standing in your kitchen, cutting it to pieces, and slathering it with peanut butter. In fact, next to Reese's, it's probably one of the best tasting things with peanut butter.
Now I am off to the grocery store, to see if the Palmer chocolate has been reduced from $6.00 per chocolate bunny to the still overpriced but more reasonable $.50. As we move closer to Easter, the price on the leftovers goes down. Still, I imagine it has a long shelf life. Kind of like Peeps and candy corn. But that's another story...