Friday, February 12, 2010

Only the Best for That Special Valentine

The Sweetheart Box ($49) from Chuao Chocolatier contains 22 assorted bonbons and tuffles. Chuao products are available online and at Whole Foods. Photo courtesy of Chuao Chocolatier.

VALENTINE’s Day is only two days away. No worries, procrastinators and slow pokes still have time to pick up a nice box of chocolates for their significant others as a symbol of their affection.

In this increasingly globalized and complicated world, with its myriad choices and upgrades, shopping can be as mind-boggling as a new smart phone. Gladly, when shopping for chocolate one need only consider buying healthy and, buying fair trade.

By now, the myriad health benefits of chocolate have reached the ears of chocoholics everywhere. Credit, however, goes mainly to dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. According to the World Atlas of Chocolate, the United States is the 11 largest chocolate-consuming nation in the world. A huge portion of this $15 billion to $20 billion is spent on milk chocolate, a key ingredient in the chocolate bars and chocolate frosting/cake that arouses our collective sweet tooth.

But most any doctor with a certificate on the wall will tell you that dark chocolate is better than milk chocolate mainly because it is far less processed. It retains significantly more of the nutrients of the cocoa plant (from which chocolate is made). Do confirm these claims with your personal physician if you have any doubts. My favorite doctor is not the one forced on me by my health plan, but Mehmet Oz (and his posse) of “Oprah” fame and most recently of his own popular “Dr. Oz Show."

To the question on Dr. O's Web site, “How does real chocolate — not milk chocolate — benefit the brain,” Dr. O's colleague, Michael Roizen wrote, “Real chocolate raises dopamine levels and provides flavonoids, which keep arteries young and the brain healthy. Enjoy 1 ounce a day (to replace milk chocolate) and your RealAge will become 1.2 years younger."

Flavonoids are naturally-occurring compounds found in plant-based foods with potent antioxidant properties. They are in a vast range of foods and beverages, including cranberries, apples, peanuts, chocolate, onions, tea and red wine. Flavonoids also get credit for lowering blood pressure and lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Another consideration in procuring chocolate is the source. Allow me to explain, but first a little background. All chocolate begins with cocoa beans, the fruit of the cocoa tree (aka cacao). It is commonly believed that the tree comes from somewhere in South or Central America. The cacao tree is a tropical plant that can only thrive in hot, rainy climates like those found in Brazil, Costa Rica and Venezuela. And Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria.

Unfortunately, there is a problem of labor abuses around the production of the cocoa beans. Western Africa accounts for most of the world’s cocoa bean production, while Europe and the United States account for most of the world’s cocoa consumption.

In some of these cocoa-producing countries, particularly Cote d’Ivoire – the world’s largest single producer of cocoa beans, there have been accusations of child labor abuses and child slavery. There is also the issue of tariffs imposed by cocoa importers, which is a detriment to farmers and to the economies of their producer countries. A number of organizations and groups, including the United Nations and Stop Chocolate Slavery, has been working to ensure that these practices be illuminated and eradicated. Stop Chocolate Slavery, for instance, lists on its Web site chocolate-producers that deal in Fair Trade chocolate, organic chocolate, or chocolate otherwise believed to be slavery-free. Alas, the biggest chocolate producers in the United States – are you listening Hershey, Mars and Nestle? – are not on the list. It seems they are not on the forefront of these movements despite paying lip service to the atrocious practices.

Chocolate buyers beware and Happy Valentine’s Day.

Visit Chuao Chocolatier at; World Atlas of Chocolate at, and the Web site of Mehmet Oz at Learn about some of the companies producing fair chocolate at the Web site of Stop Chocolate Slavery at

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Whether in a Park or Center, Fashion Lives

A sketch of an ensemble from the Ports 1961 Fall 2010 Collection. Photo courtesy of Ports 1961.

HEAD’S UP: Yours Truly, alas, alas, will not comment on the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2010 Collections in New York with the vigor that she did in September for the Spring 2010 Collections. It’s simply impossible because I am in the Southern branch (Louisiana) of the family seat tending to my mother who is hospitalized in serious condition. While I won’t be in New York in person during Fashion Week, I will be there in spirit to offer remarks on some of the proceedings. Do stay tuned, and thank you for your support.

New York Fashion Week at Bryant Park is much like a relay race. The strongest are placed at or near the beginning and at or near the end. In this case, BCBGMaxAria is on early today and Tommy Hilfiger ends it on Thursday, 18 Feb. Both collections are strong in the sense that they will draw huge crowds to the Tent, the largest show space at the tents in the park.

Speaking of BP – no doubt you’ve heard – the Fall 2010 Collections are the last to be held in this beautiful patch of God’s green earth. It seems that Fashion Week is not democratic enough. True, it’s for industry folks, buyers, media, tastemakers and such. On the otherhand, BP is a place/space for the people – the huddled masses and such. Another wrinkle is that Fashion Week has grown too big for the park, spiking from 30-something shows that first year in 1993 to more than a hundred over recent years. Adding to the drama, there was even talk that Los Angeles (doesn’t that city have its own) was trying to snag Fashion Week, driving Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the CFDA and others to find another home for this local cash cow.

To that end, as early as next Thursday after the 8 p.m. Hilfiger show, the tents will begin to fold, leaving the nearby declining Garment District for larger, more prosperous quarters to the north at Lincoln Center. 'Tis going to be interesting to see how much, if any, will be lost in relocation. Will the tourists, onlookers, gatecrashers, wannabes, thrillseekers, protestors, pretenders, poseurs follow the circus? In September, it’ll be on!

Meanwhile, likley highlights today are the Ports 1961 collection “inspired by the relationship between discovery and invention,” noted designer Tia Cibani. And there is the Heart Truth’s Red Dress Collection 2010 at 7 this evening in the Tent. Expect a red carpet atmosphere as celebrity types – Valerie Harper, Felicity Huffman, Kim Kardashian, Robin Roberts and Jordin Sparks – walk the runway in red dresses designed by the likes of Oscar de la Renta, John Galliano, Donna Karan and Tadashi Shoji to raise awareness about heart disease among women.

Some others showing today at the tents and elsewhere: Mackage, Richard Chai, Miguel Antoinne, Duckie Brown, Toni Maticevski, Callula Lillibelle, George McCracken, Farah Angsana and Mik Cire by Eric Kim.
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