Eating chocolate is an appropriate way to mark most any occasion in life, from honoring Arbor Day to mourning the death of a major appliance.
Over the years I marked such noteworthy events as finding a free parking spot, by stopping at the Rheb chocolate booth in the Lexington Market and refueling.
Whenever I spot a Rolls-Royce, which these days isn't very often, I nonetheless think of the time I held a model of that car, made from Godiva chocolate, in my moist and trembling hands.
The sight of dark blue ceramic tile makes me think chocolate covered nuts and the tiled entrance to the Russell Stover store in Kansas City. That was the shop where my mom would buy me and my brothers our rewards for "being good boys" on the shopping trip. I haven't received either lately, the chocolate or the citation for good behavior on a shopping trip.
Despite my beliefs that regular chocolate eating should, like regular exercise, be part of today's lifestyle, there is little doubt that Valentine's Day, on Friday, is the calendar's biggest excuse to eat a big box of the dark stuff.
"Valentine's Day is a beautiful blip on the sales graph," said Jim Ross who, along with Gerard Naron, owns Naron Candy Co. in Baltimore. I spoke to Ross on the phone. Since it was a few days before Valentine's Day, Ross was in a cheery mood.
He gave me some background information on the candy business. The busiest season of the year, he said, is the Christmas season. The sales leading up to Easter and Mother's Day are nothing to sniff at, he said. But for chocolate, the big, "brown letter" day is Valentine's Day.
Moreover, the person buying this chocolate is usually male, Ross said. And, he said, the guy is often in a hurry.
"It is mostly men, buying a gift for his wife, his girlfriend . . . whomever," said Ross, who has been selling candy for the past 46 years.
The discreet chocolatier never inquires whom the gift is being given to. But the joke in the trade, Ross said, is that a man will come into a shop, spot a giant chocolate heart and buy it without blinking an eye. Then the guy will say: "Now give me something smaller for my wife."
Secrecy rather than forgetfulness, he said, is the reason men often wait until the last minute to buy chocolates for their Valentines.
"The fellow doesn't want his girl to know that he got her a gift," said Ross. "So he will buy it on the way home from work. Or he will hide it in the trunk of his car."
I thanked Ross and hung up.
As the big day drew near, I found myself driving to the city's sweetest hideaway, the shop of chocolatier Albert Kirchmayr.
The shop is hard to find. That is part of its appeal for me. It sits back from the beaten path, tucked behind a bank and a convenience store, at 6223 1/2 N. Charles St.
Yet out of this nondescript brick building come extraordinary chocolates. Many of Kirchmayr's chocolates are whisked from shop to fancy food stores or are served as dessert at fine hotels in Baltimore and Washington.
But a few don't make it out of the shop. And in the front of the building is a small counter. There, for under $20, a fellow can buy a dark chocolate heart filled with truffles or half pound boxes of exquisite chocolates filled with liqueur or coffee.
There a guy can read a nutritional analysis of chocolate. The newspaper clipping is the work of Berkeley, Calif., nutrition writer, Edward R. Blonz, who says that chocolate, once blamed for everything from pimples to restless sleep, isn't as evil as once thought. Studies show that while chocolate is relatively high in fat calories, chocolate doesn't aggravate acne, aggravate blood cholesterol levels, cause tooth decay or have enough caffeine in it to cause sleeplessness.
While in the shop a guy can also look at the metal molds there and marvel that chocolate can be formed into swans or shoes or flowers.
But as he leaves, he knows that the most remarkable quality of chocolate is not what it does to blood cholesterol. Or chocolate's ability to assume rigid shapes. Rather what is amazing about chocolate is its ability to melt hearts.