Chocolate. Chocolate everywhere – on the smooth surface, on the sides, dripping steadily down towards the plate. The drizzled snowflake designs on the top of the pudding put one in mind of freezing Holland winters, not burning Arizona summers. Chocolate is more of a winter food, or at least a cold weather food, definitely not suitable for the Sonoran desert. Survival mechanisms here include: avoid outdoors as much as humanely possible between the months of May and October, scurry from one air conditioned haven to another, consume solely ice-cold drinks and ice-cold food. My grandmother, however, was a firm believer in the restorative powers of chocolate. She fostered this knowledge on us during one hazy summer afternoon where the heat shimmered in waves off of the pavement and thermometers reached 115 Fahrenheit.
My grandmother came from a tiny town in Northern Holland, where it snows up to three feet in a “light flurry” and where the method of transportation for most months is skating on frozen canals. I visited, once, when I was 12 years old. It was a fairytale village – pointed rooftops, green shutters, window flower boxes. A canal cut directly through the center, with houseboats moored there for the summer. One, a small blue-lined thing, was home to an old lady who gave me massive cookies and told stories of her life. I ate the semisweet chocolate and nodded politely as she showed me faded photographs of days long gone now.
Arizona summers are furnaces of boiling, still air. The dusty ground cracks and forms spiderwebs across the dry land, and the roads look like they have water on them even when there’s none there. My grandmother was not a fan of this weather. She loved the cold, she loved the snow, and she loved chocolate. And that meant, the first time she came to visit us in Arizona, she came prepared, with bags of chocolate, raisins, and more chocolate. We were about to be blessed with her famous chipolatapudding, a traditionally Dutch dessert— three types of chocolate, glazed with sugar, dotted with raisins, made kid friendly by the substitution of melted dark chocolate inside of the typical Maraschino liquor.
Although the heat was as oppressive as ever and everything in my brothers’ and my bodies were telling us to avoid heavy foods, we watched eagle-eyed as the pudding was completed and placed majestically on its plate. As we eagerly prepared to begin eating, a thunderclap outside heralded the arrival of rain.
When it rains in Arizona, it really rains. We rushed to the front door and flung it open, standing in the shelter of the small overhang and watching the torrents of rain crashing down. Up and down our street, our neighbors were doing the same. The end of the road was shrouded in sheets of water, and the giant cactus in our neighbor’s yard swayed in the strong gusts of wind. My grandmother waved hands covered in chocolate and sugar towards the gray thunderheads and exclaimed “gezegende regen!” (blessed rain!)
My brothers and I sat crosslegged just outside the front door and dug into the pudding to the soundtrack of thunder and rain on tiled roofs. It was as good as expected – the hard chocolate shell breaking apart to reveal the creamier chocolate inside, the raisins tasting better than they could ever taste by themselves, everything melting on my tongue in delicious celebration.
My grandmother leaned against the doorframe and watched us proudly, close cropped hair dusted with sugar and fingers tipped with chocolate. Later, she taught us a clapping game and kept the rhythm in chanted Dutch, still smelling of three kinds of chocolate and hair frosted with delicate grains of sugar. The remains of the chipolotapudding rested on the kitchen counter, invoking thoughts of snowy villages and frozen canals in Holland amidst the boiling Arizona desert.