Sometimes, when you’ve reached a certain birthday, it becomes easier to write it out in pepitas than to say it aloud. Though it turns out that writing things out in pepitas is not that easy either, and in fact requires very small (check) and very steady (uncheck) fingers.
When I turned the above pictured age a few weeks ago, I surprised myself in the days preceding it by doing the exact opposite of what I thought I’d do: that is, instead of quietly sulking, I told everybody. I don’t know what came over me, but I suddenly wanted to bare all (age-wise). Seeing as how I now spend my days at home or running errands, “everybody” meant the lady at the Rite-Aid pharmacy counter, the people at the furniture store and the guys at the post office, and Dallas H.—my favorite cashier at Harris Teeter. “Friday’s my birthday,” I’d tell them, unsolicited, before whispering, “30!” and blushing when they’d say they didn’t believe it.
Yeah, it was all fun and games until I actually turned 30.
When I was little, I remember standing at either end of the escalator at the mall and pretending it was my job to pull the black rubber railing. I would strain and breathe loudly, making believe that the giant moving stairway needed me to power it. It was a physically demanding task, but somebody had to do it. Or actually, they didn’t. As soon as my parents would call me, I’d run off, leaving the escalator to function perfectly well on its own.
I think of my littler self whenever I’m on an escalator—honestly, I do. That illusion of being in charge—of physically willing something into motion—now seems like an apt way to describe my feelings as this big birthday approached.
Telling people about it, and saying it out loud before it was real, felt like taking charge, too, like I had managed to control what happened and how people would react to me. I fished for compliments and got them.
But then of course, I stepped back from this escalator of sorts and the damn thing kept on going, with or without my touch.
The good thing was that when the big 3-0 finally arrived, I had a lot of good distractions. That weekend John’s parents arrived from Chicago, and my sister-in-law Liz and niece Nora showed up for a surprise visit. Nothing breaks in a new house like a two-year-old! (See previous post re: thanking my lucky stars John likes to vacuum.)
And now it’s time to tell you about the chocolate bark. This was one of the better choices I’ve made with regard to cooking food for a group ahead of time. It’s totally a crime to even call this “cooking.” It is literally a two-part process in which chocolate is melted and re-solidified again.
The quality of the bark is wholly determined by the quality of the chocolate you use. What does this mean for you? It means that you are the master of your bark. You are large and in charge. You can will deliciousness, and it will appear.
At the end of the day, the birthday was fun, as birthdays usually are, but the day after, I was still stuck being 30. The good thing was that the day after, I remembered the bark. I pulled the sheet pan from the freezer and broke the chocolate slab into jagged chocolate pieces. John’s mom, sister, and I hovered over the kitchen counter and ate half of them straight off the wax paper. (For the record, I think this is a distinctly female phenomenon—the tendency to hide in the kitchen eating the best parts of a food item before serving the, um, not-as-best parts to everyone else.)
The thing about bark, however, is that it turns out that there are no best and not-so-best parts. It is literally all good because it is literally all chocolate. To which, of course, pepitas have been smartly added for a nutty, salty crunch. It’s like the perfect dessert—easy, fancy, and so good you’ll have to make a second batch for the company because the first batch for the company—well, you ate it. (Oops.)
I can’t in good conscience let you get through the holiday season without making this bark. Trust me. I know what’s good for you, and this is a kind of wisdom that can only come with age.
Chocolate Bark with Pepitas and Sea Salt
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips (I always use Ghiradelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips, but any good quality chocolate will do)
About 1/4 cup dry-roasted, salted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
Sea salt flakes (I always use Maldon)
In a double boiler (or metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water), melt chocolate chips, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when chocolate is fully melted and no lumps remain.
Pour melted chocolate onto parchment-paper lined baking sheet, tilting the sheet so that the chocolate forms a long oval.
Sprinkle pepitas evenly over chocolate, and a few pinches of sea salt. Chill for at least an hour before breaking into pieces. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the fridge.