The Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Principle

March 17, 2017

Photo courtesy Jennifer Pallian

Sometimes this world is too much for me. Too many activities. Too much noise. Too many expectations. Too much stuff in my house. Too much stuff in my head. More than once I’ve written about my attempts to banish busy or do less, and yet I still wind up searching for ways to make life more manageable and thus happier. My newest discovery is the principle of “less, but better.”

The phrase less, but better comes from the design philosophy of industrial designer Dieter Rams, but it’s easy to see how we can apply it to our overcrowded lives.


Less seems pretty self-explanatory. Do less, have less, embrace enough and avoid excess. Of course, excess looks different to every person. What is excess to me could be just right for you. I hate being rushed and I get anxious when stretched too thin. To maintain my personal happy balance, I need to commit to doing fewer things, whether that means trimming my to-do list, or saying no to activities I’d like to do but that will put me over the border into Crazytown.

No matter what our personal less/excess level is, we need to be clear in our own minds about what we truly want and need. Less, but better is the way of mindfulness, intention, slowing down to think rather than diving in heedlessly. It’s the way of becoming more thoughtful with time and energy.

Instead of throwing a ton of stuff (activities, food, clothes, possessions) at yourself, ask, what do I need? What do I long for? Would one gourmet dark chocolate sea salt caramel be more satisfying than five grocery store candy bars? The answer is almost always yes.


Getting rid of excess, or not buying into it (or buying it) in the first place, is just the start. Once the excess is pared away, we’ll have time and space, and probably money, to go deeper, to enjoy better. Since deeper is my word of the year, I really appreciate this. When a new something-or-other catches my attention, I remind myself that this is the year I want to go deeper into the things that I love and that I’ve already committed to such as my writing, my horse, and sketching. Instead of reading more books this year, I want to read better books, and absorb more of what I read. I’d rather put my heart into a few things than spatter my attention across a multitude.

I don’t say this is easy. I still find it remarkably hard not to run after the first shiny object that attracts my eye. But I am getting much better at choosing that single dark chocolate sea salt caramel.

What is one area in your life where you can experiment with the principle of less, but better?


Field Trip Friday: Chocolate Kingdom

October 16, 2015

Baby cacao tree and pods

This edition of Field Trip Friday takes us to Kissimmee, FL, just outside of Orlando, where my partner in adventure Laure Ferlita and I “forced” ourselves to join a chocolate factory tour at Chocolate Kingdom. The tour was interactive, which means we got to taste things!

Though the tour was a bit goofy (somewhat touristy and aimed at children), our guide was cute and enthusiastic, imparting tons of interesting facts and history, and information on how chocolate goes from cacao bean to delicious treat. We also ordered custom chocolate bars which they made in front of us. I chose dark chocolate, pecans and caramel. Yum.

I learned quite a bit about chocolate. For instance:

Chocolate is made from a seed that comes from a fruit tree. The name of the tree, Theobroma Cacao, means “Food of the Gods.” The seeds/beans grow in a football-shaped pod. “Cacao” (ka-KOW) is the raw unprocessed form, which will later be called “cocoa” after processing. Each tree produces about 2,500 beans a year, and it takes about 400 cacao beans to make one pound of chocolate. Though it is native to Central and South America and grows throughout the tropics, about 70 percent of cocoa comes from West Africa, according to the National Confectioners Association’s Chocolate Council.

Cacao fruit
(photo courtesy Darias Martin)

Cacao pods mature throughout the year, and contain about 30 to 40 beans covered in a sticky pulp, which is also eaten and used in drinks. At this point, the beans themselves are bitter. After the beans are harvested, they are fermented (sweetening the flavor and making them more chocolatey), dried in the sun, and shipped to a factory. Factory workers sift the beans, weigh them, and sort them by type. They are roasted, cracked and winnowed, and the resulting pieces of bean are called “nibs.” We tasted some of these on the tour, and while they’re not sweet or even very chocolatey-tasting, I liked the flavor—they’d be good on ice cream.


The nibs are crushed and ground into chocolate liquor (there is no alcoholic content, despite the name). The liquor can then be crushed in a press to remove the cocoa butter (eventually producing cocoa powder), or be made into chocolate with the addition of sugar, vanilla, more cocoa butter, and milk (for milk chocolate). This chocolate will be refined, mixed, and otherwise processed to produce the chocolate we eat.

Other miscellaneous facts I found interesting:

Cacao beans were used as currency in early Mesoamerica.

Chocolate can have notes of berry, citrus, black licorice, cinnamon, mushroom, toast, and other flavors, according to one professional chocolate taster. Where the chocolate was grown, under what conditions, and how it was processed helps to determine what flavors the chocolate will have.  

The melting point of cocoa butter is just below our body temperature of 98.6—that’s why it melts in our mouths.

Sadly, the chocolate I brought home after the tour is just a memory. But, I hear Chocolate Kingdom participates in a Festival of Chocolate every year in Tampa—sign me up! 

What’s your favorite chocolate treat?


Happy National Chocolate Covered Anything Day

December 16, 2013

I’ll take any excuse to eat chocolate—and it would be un-American not to participate in National Chocolate Covered Anything Day, don’t you think? I happen to have some chocolate covered almonds and dried cherries on hand, but there are ever so many things that can be covered in chocolate…even bacon! (I think I’ll stick with almonds and cherries.) 

Even though this is kind of a silly “holiday,” I think it’s good to have silly little celebrations all through the year. Why can’t we make up our own holidays? I’ve been known to celebrate horse and dog birthdays, as well as Marmot Day. If you were making up your own holiday, what would you celebrate?


Seize the Pleasure

May 23, 2012

Seize the flowers and chocolate...

“Why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation!”
Jane Austen, Emma


A Time for Chocolate

November 18, 2009

Today, my "catching happiness" philosophy is being tested. Today I received a rejection for a personal essay I submitted to a local newspaper two months ago. Today, this piece that I love, that I worked hard on and revised and optimistically sent out into the world came back to me--with a form email telling me "it does not meet our needs at this time."

Sadly, rejection for writers in general, and for me in particular, is nothing new. It's a heartbreaking profession.  My writer friends and I try to encourage each other, try to share any good news we get, and also try to find ways to gauge our "success" in ways other than pieces sold.  I have a file folder full of completed manuscripts to remind myself that I am producing work, whether it sells or not, and that is better than producing nothing at all.  Surprisingly, you can't become a better writer unless you write.  I keep all my rejections in another folder.  (And not because I plan to send anonymous hate mail to the rejecting editors.  Really.)

So how will I soothe my ruffled ego and regain a positive attitude?  Aside from initially questioning why on earth I think I can write anything, I'll remember that this is one piece rejected by one market.  I'll remember that even though I've been writing for a long time, the personal essay format is new to me.  I'm still learning.  Eventually, I'll look at the rejected piece again, maybe revise it and find someplace else to send it.  Because that's what you do when you pursue happiness.  You don't sit around and wait for it to come to you.

But first I think I'll eat some chocolate.