Sunday, April 13, 2014

Choose and Chews

Towards the end of last year, an acquaintance of mine talked about her word for 2014. Apparently, each year she picks a word to keep in mind for the year ahead. The words just come to her. While the idea struck me as dangerously close to being a little too New Age for comfort, I have to admit I was intrigued. And when as she'd promised a word came to me out of nowhere, I decided what the heck.

Late in December, choose settled over me. It seemed so obvious. My skepticism evaporated. I could use this time saving device. For all those days that I waste time on deciding where to meet a friend for coffee. Just choose!  Or for the times I can't figure out what book to read next. Pick one!

A few years earlier I'd made a New Years resolution to make decisions. Part of that resolution was to embrace the likelihood of making bad decisions. Knowing that the real success was in deciding and moving forward. Choosing seemed to fit in well here as well.

When I told my mother about my word, she asked, "which one?" I was confused for a second, but then realized that when I said choose she heard chews. It seemed even more appropriate now, and it was a good story--I trotted it out at dinners and coffee dates all through January and February.

And then I looked up the etymology of choose. From the Old English, ceosan, choose, seek out, ...taste. I was pleased to see the word also meant to taste. How can you taste without chewing? She who chews, chooses.

But it gets better. The etymology of ceosan stretches back to Old Saxon and Old Norse words and beyond to the Proto-Indo-European--the hypothetical reconstructed ancestral language.  (A side note. Proto-Indo European is abbreviated as PIE. I just wish there were also a CAKE language.)

The PIE root is *geus, which means to taste, to relish. As in gusto. In German and Celtic languages that root came mainly to mean try or choose. But in Greek and Latin it formed the words for taste.

And how fun to follow the PIE root up other branches of the tree. Whereas *geus on the Germanic branches went on to mean test and decide, if I follow it up the Indo-Iranian branch I see in Sanskrit it evolved to jus, meaning enjoy, be pleased. And in Avestan zaosa meant pleasure.The Old Persian dauš meant enjoy.

I love the notion of linking choosing with pleasure (and taste and relish and gusto!). I know that's not exactly what all this means. But it's the way I'm choosing to think about it. I figure I have both of these language traditions in my makeup. So why not have them work together? Embrace the PIE?

I like the idea of taking the more analytical approach, choosing by evaluating and selecting. But all the while, I'm going to aim to do this with gusto--make those decisions with relish, pleasure, and enjoyment.

Whether it's the big decisions (what the heck should I be doing with my life?) or the seemingly small (Little T or Bakeshop? Extracto or Ristretto?), my goal is to enjoy the process, to take pleasure in being able to make free choices, and to enjoy the ride.

Above all, to remember to taste. The food and drink, of course. But everything else along the way too. Because isn't that really the point?

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine's Trifle

Here's a Valentine's trifle for you. Much as I love fine chocolate--and there's so much to be had these days!--people who know me know about the soft spot See's occupies in my heart.

It's not so much their chocolate (I believe they use Guittard, which I find perfectly fine) that speaks to me. It's the brown sugar grainy filling of their Butterscotch Square, and the Apricot Bonbon's bright yellow fondant that is so sweet it almost--almost!--hurts my teeth before giving way to a slightly tart apricot filling. It's the sprinkles on the round Bordeaux and rectangular Mocha bonbons. It's the unlikely height of the Scotchmallows. And the four-in-a-cup crispness of Molasses Chips.

But it's much more. It's the spic and span white and black of their floors, counters, boxes, and uniforms. That white and black that never changes, and never goes out of style.

It's their slogan 'A Happy Habit', that seems to run directly counter to today's tendency to think of foods as naughty or guilt-inducing.

It's the free samples they give out to all who visit, and always with a smile. Even when it's a group of three teenagers who probably aren't buying anything. Or an old man who's picking up a box for his wife and gratefully accepts his prize, even when it's not his favorite.

And yesterday it was because it was the day before Valentine's Day. My local See's was full of men, apparently buying chocolates for their loves. I noticed one guy, paying, who looked as if he wished he didn't have to be there. But the man in front of me was picking out chocolates for a box, and smiling to himself after each selection. And the man behind me asked for the largest heart box, pulled a sheet of paper out of his pocket, and began making his choices.  It was the See's cheat sheet, marked up with felt pens circling various types. I don't know if he'd made himself notes (I like to think Pavel has a list somewhere of all my favorites!), or if his wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, mother, father, or child had given him the sheet. Probably just to be helpful.

I know a lot of people don't like Valentine's Day. But yesterday, as I stood in the See's line watching other people carefully select chocolates for people they love, celebrating being loved and being in love seemed like a good idea. The best idea there is.

Here's to love and chocolate!
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