Math and Other Dangers

Recipe #8: chocolate kisses


The recipe for chocolate kisses calls for 3 1/4 oz of chocolate, and the bar of Scharfenbergers semi-sweet chocolate was 9.7 ounces. This was bad news for me. If these had been rounder numbers, or if I were less of a mathematical moron, I could have seized the opportunity to turn this into a teaching moment. You know, showing how to apply math in everyday life and ending up with chocolate kisses! Instead, I punched numbers into a calculator and got nowhere. I looked at the bar of chocolate and started over. No number came up that was useful. Luca was watching me fumble around and in an effort to hide my fear of math, I turned it into a comedy act. I stared at the calculator and made funny faces at it and banged it on the table as though it were broken. Luckily, Luca is at an age where his mother can still crack him up.

I have truly despised math all my life, and I will feel horribly guilty if Luca inherits my deficiency. I realize that in certain fields, math is power and that it even contains a certain beauty. I was too bored by math drills to appreciate any deeper mathematical concepts, and now I see that I missed out. In drumming, for example, I can see that having even a basic understanding of math would be beneficial. For this reason, I lie to Luca regularly, saying things like, “Math is fun, right?” And, “Math is cool. You are so lucky to do math every day!” Luca is already a lover of books and words, and I am determined that if he decides to hate math it will be his own doing and not mine.

The best I could do was to come up with an approximation of how much chocolate to use. Then Luca looked at the recipe. “30 kisses,” he read. “That’s a lot,” he said looking doubtful. Then he said, “Oh, because they are small.” But I didn’t see how the little block of chocolate could amount to 30 kisses no matter how small they were. Luca agreed. “Let’s make the whole thing,” he said. We decided to double the recipe which made the math calculations only marginally easier.

Cutting the block of chocolate was hard so I did that and then Luca put it into a metal bowl. When the water was “just bubbling,” I placed the bowl over the water and Luca got up on his step stool and started stirring. The chocolate melting into thick goo was a divine sight. Luca kept stirring. The metal bowl was smaller than the pot of water underneath it so that I had to hold it in place. Even so a little water got inside the bowl of chocolate and I had to pour it out. Luca had on his blue mitts and kept stirring.

When all the chocolate was melted, I got out the “cold butter,” and cut out two tablespoons worth. It went into the bowl and Luca stirred some more. We took turns stirring until the butter had disappeared into the melted chocolate. I don’t know why this was so much fun but it was.

“Now it has to cool,” I said. Luca read from the book. “Place chocolate in a small plastic bag and squeeze into a corner.”  I looked for a good plastic bag and when the chocolate held its shape, we spooned it in. Luca laughed because it was messy.

“This is easier said than done,” I said and he laughed some more.

“Is that an expression?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Is it an expression people say all the time?”

“Not all the time, but when something sounds easier than it is.”

Once the chocolate was in the bag we had to get it all into one corner. Luca went to work on this as I lined a baking sheet with parchment paper. Luca was being extremely thorough about getting the chocolate into the corner of the bag and when he was done he said, “Now we need scissors.” I told him that all of the scissors were in his room, probably three or four pairs, because every time we have a pair anywhere else in the house, he takes them and they subsequently disappear into the unholy mess that is his room. He grumbled something on his way to his room and then emerged holding a pair of child’s scissors. He cut the corner of the bag.

“Here comes the fun part,” I said. I squeezed out the first kiss. Really it was more of a blob than a kiss. The second one looked like a slug. Another cooking mystery: how do you get a perfect kiss shape? It seemed impossible to get them to look like the picture:


Luca took the bag and made a few. “These don’t look like kisses,” he said, and I told him that they would taste great no matter what shape they were in. We took turns squeezing out the kisses, and then we did some together. Luca started getting silly with it and filled a second baking sheet by himself. Doubling the recipe made 36 kisses, not 60, and some of them were very small.

Who cares what they looked like? They were delicious.

Chocolate smudges

Chocolate smudges

Luca’s own batch tasted just as good.

Now these are kisses!

Now these are kisses!

Luca went to work on the bowl with a spoon and his fingers, and I put the kisses in the refrigerator to cool. Just then I got a call from my bank saying that someone was at that moment trying to cash a check from my account for 996 dollars. I didn’t know this person, and she was just then fleeing from the bank. She had all my account information including my home address. I was instructed to go right away to my nearest bank to close the account. Since my husband’s name is also on the account, I wasn’t sure they would let me do this, but I told Luca we had to go right now. He got on his shoes and we went to the bank.

Luca seemed unfazed by the fact that some strange person was trying to steal our money. He has seen a few bikes stolen from our old house in Venice, but that is about it as far as his awareness of criminal activity goes. When I was his age, my house was getting broken into regularly. I’d come home from school and find that the place had been ransacked with a chilling ferocity. Other times we’d wake in the middle of the night to the sound of people breaking in and rifling around through our things. Once we even saw a dead body in the street moments after a stabbing. And then of course we lived under the forbidding shadow of the Brooklyn House of Detention which was next door. So the life of crime and its aftermath was never far from my consciousness. Luca, on the other hand, has been largely sheltered. He knows there are “bad guys” out there in the world, but he hasn’t brushed up against them much.

The “personal banker” closed my existing account and moved all the money into one with just my name on it. She did all this without so much as a phone call to Jim. So this is how easy is to steal from your spouse, I thought. I’d put Jim’s name on the account as soon as we could get to a bank together but how did the banker know that? As Luca and I were leaving the bank, my phone rang again. This time it was another bank asking if we had authorized a check in the amount of 998 dollars to a woman with a different name than the first one. I didn’t know if they were two separate people or if it was one person with fake ID’s. I explained the situation adding that if the woman was still in the bank, she needed to be arrested.

It felt strange asking for someone to be arrested. I have taught writing in prisons, mostly to juveniles and women, and have heard about the desperate circumstances that lead to incarceration. Many women end up in jail because some guy has coerced her to commit a crime. I had no idea what the story was behind the woman (or women) who was trying to steal our money, just that right then I couldn’t feel much sympathy. Still, whoever she was, she was having a shitty life and sending her to jail wouldn’t solve any of her problems. Nor would it make me any safer from thieves. In any case there was little chance of her being arrested because the bank teller couldn’t exactly jump over the counter to detain her and what were the chances she would hang around long enough for a cop to arrive?

When Luca and I got home, he suddenly looked panicked. “What about my account?” he said. He has exactly $52 in his account, one dollar for every week of 2008 (more math!). I told him not to worry, that we didn’t pay bills with that account so his money was safe. He was relieved.

The chocolate kisses were cold by now and we ate a few of them. They were buttery and melted instantly. “Mmm, so good,” Luca said. My phone rang again and this time it was a policeman saying that he did indeed have the woman with the bad checks in custody and that he would call back later with more information. Luca was excited that I was talking to a police officer and he got on another phone and listened in. I was very surprised that the woman had been caught. This was probably the first time I have ever been the victim of a crime where the perpetrator had been apprehended.

Luca and I went to meet Jim for dinner at Mozza Pizzeria. We had three different kinds of pizza: clams and garlic, funghi misti, and what we called the Pig Fest: sausage, salami, bacon and guanciale.

Outside Mozza

Outside Mozza

The View From Mozza

The View From Mozza

When we came home Jim saw the bowl full of chocolate kisses and opened his birthday present. We watched “Bringing Up Baby” with Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and ate all the kisses. I can’t think of a better combination of mood elevators. Luca laughed all the way through the movie.

Right before bed he asked, “What would happen if there was no such thing as money?”


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