chocolate house

Chocolate House

"Have you ever had Grandma's chocolate?"

An example of looking in the rear view mirror to see what is on the road ahead

Even though I didn’t grow up cooking or having someone directly teaching me how to cook, much of my early influences related to food comes from my grandparents.

Especially my grandma.

My aunt Linda and I have a shared sweet tooth and there’s been a few times since my grandma has passed away when Linda asked me whether I’d ever had Grandma’s chocolate. I wasn’t sure what she’d meant the first time because I’d had lots of chocolate growing up and, yeah sure, some of it was Grandma’s.

I love telling this one story in particular.

But first, let me lay out the scene:

The kitchen in the house I grew up in was of decent size and laid out like a big square. There was no island, so the kitchen was quite open and on one wall, there was the door to the garage on the opposite side of the entrance to the kitchen from the family room. There was the stove to the right of the garage door, and turning the corner, the kitchen sink was under the small window facing the back yard. The last wall of the kitchen was to the left when you walked into the kitchen from the family room and it held the double-door pantry at one end and the refrigerator at the other end by the garage door, and in between the fridge and pantry was a small patch of counter space that had a single-door cabinet above and a pull-out drawer and single-door cabinet below the counter.

This is as close as you’ll get to seeing me at four-years-old. This is about a year early. You get the picture.

This is as close as you’ll get to seeing me at four-years-old. This is about a year early. You get the picture.

Before I do any further storytelling, do me a quick favor: Picture me at four-years-old. Have you got that image in mind? A four-year-old Morgan? Good. Keep that image in your head a bit. If you don’t have it, just picture 39-year-old Morgan only a bit shorter and not yet with glasses and bangs. That should suffice.

Back to the actual story.

One day, I was pulling open all the kitchen drawers (as you do), and I found the silverware, the ubiquitous junk drawer, the drawer the held rolls of aluminum foil and cling wrap. It wasn’t long before I found the holy grail. The golden treasure. Or rather, instead of gold, a familiar yellow and red bag that contained the true treasure. A bag of Nestle chocolate chips previously opened and now held closed by a clothespin.

That’s just bad security.

Really? A clothespin? In a drawer I could reach?

It’d just be rude not to take some chocolate chips!

I was a smart kid, though, and knew that I just had to take a few at a time and no one would be the wiser. I even knew that I could hold the bag shut with one hand while I release the clothespin with the other and quietly open the bag rather than let the clothespin wrinkling the bag and give away my position.

At some point, though, I ended up going to the well too many times because I could even tell that there was a pretty significant decrease in the amount of chips left in the bag. I overheard my grandma saying to my mom once that she thought I must be sneaking in the drawer and stealing some chips. I was hiding in the pantry at the time of that short conversation, so I still can’t tell if it was a trap or not as I’m not sure if they knew I was hiding there.

I got nabbed once.

It was the worst.

But, see, I was diligent and patrolled to make sure the perimeter was clear. I should have never been caught.

I crept up to the drawer that I had renamed in my mind as the chocolate drawer even though I guess there were other things in it who knows these things.

I slid the drawer open silently.

I did my trick to open the clothespin without noise.

I filled my tiny little hand with a whole bunch of chocolate chips and suddenly my grandma appeared around the corner from the family room.

I froze.

I could hear her working up to holler at me but I’d made a quick calculation that if I was already in trouble for stealing the chips, I may as well eat them.

I shoved them in my mouth in one go and turned to make my escape out the garage door but my mom had just appeared there from work and I was trapped with a mouth stuffed with chocolate and no excuses to articulate.

My grandma just hollered and went on about how those were her chocolate chips for making cookies. My mouth fell open in disbelief. I’d never seen a damn chocolate chip cookie come out of that kitchen.

I’D HAVE KNOWN!

An inherited sweet tooth with deep Southern roots

Despite getting caught and being lied to because seriously there were never any cookies, I love that there is a chocolate-loving-gene we all share. And it goes further back.

Linda clarified what she’d meant when she’d asked if I’d ever had Grandma’s chocolate. My grandma would make for her kids something she’d call “chocolate” for breakfast. Linda said she’d make it every Saturday morning and began to describe it for me.

After she told me what it was, I asked if she’d had a recipe for it. Linda said no.

I decided to hack the recipe and made a version of Grandma’s chocolate for me and Cheri to try. Neither of us knew quite what to expect and Cheri was particularly skeptical. But it was delicious and new, even though it was an old creation.

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My grandma and grandpa are from Tennessee and since I don’t know anything of my dad’s side of the family, I have a tendency to simply describe my family as Southern (even though I could be a whole lot of some other origin on the unknown side of my family). Apparently, “chocolate” or “chocolate gravy” was a mainstay in the Tennessee mountains, spreading throughout Appalachia, into the Ozarks, and the rest of the South.

Grandma’s chocolate is now going to be served at the Chocolate House in Muncie, Indiana for brunch.

On Saturday mornings.

Just like she used to do.

What is chocolate gravy?

So, just what is chocolate gravy? It can be made in a couple of different ways but it comes down to the process that is followed by making any gravy: mixing dry ingredients with a liquid fat and thickening to the desired consistency. For the recipe I have developed, I use sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt, cinnamon, and chipotle, and I mix this combination with milk and butter, vanilla extract, and more chocolate to finish. Yes, it is sweet, but it is not like chocolate syrup. It has a richness and body that leaves you satisfied without feeling empty/full from just having sweets.

The biscuits I use are not sweetened and I have now honed in on a dairy-free biscuit that has won over omnivores in blind tasting. They make for a great canvas to pour all the chocolate gravy you can stand and, when paired with bottomless cups of Flying Rhino Coffee, the brunch hits a perfect balance.

The idea of making something my grandma made brings me a wave of joy and pride I can’t always articulate. But it also opens a doorway to be creative and continue to evolve with different interpretations of chocolate gravy; for example, I am excited about developing a white chocolate gravy and pairing it with the dark chocolate gravy to make for a “tuxedo” plate! The white chocolate replaces the butter in a traditional gravy and I use buttermilk to add a bit of tang to the sweet gravy. I feel like Grandma would approve of this version, too.

Come join us for brunch!

If any and all of this sounds good to you, come see us for brunch! We will be offering brunch on Saturdays from 9a-2p. Our Chocolate House is growing more and more each day. We can’t wait for you and someone you unapologetically love to be a part of that growth and have Grandma’s chocolate, too!

A Year In Review for Queer Chocolatier

Happy Birthday, Queer Chocolatier! 

Queer Chocolatier shares a birthday with my late grandmother who would be 88 years old today. I launched the business on this day to honor the person responsible for molding my early chocolate experiences. Today, one year after opening up and professionally working with chocolate, I am light years from where I thought I would be. 

And I couldn't be happier. Or more exhausted. Or more nervous. Or more determined. 

Basically, I'm more of everything. I'm turned to all the way to eleven.

As we approach the opening of the Queer Chocolatier Chocolate House in the next few of weeks, I am taking a few moments to reflect upon this past year of all the growth and shaping of Queer Chocolatier. 

Enjoy this video review of our first year of being #outandopenforbusiness
 



Cheri and I knew it would be important to start a business that we weren't finding as customers. We appreciate good quality products made my passionate folx, but we also wanted to become a business that would take those key components--quality and passion--and add them to our political mindset and be unapologetically transparent to those who engage with us.

We started as an online business and added farmers' markets as ways to meet people and sell our products as well as our vision. It was an incredibly endearing process to make new friends and to be bare about who we are and what we stand for. I used to study farmers' markets as a sociologist so being a vendor at one was a complement to another chapter in my life. But being a scrappy young business the first few weeks led to a quick spurt of growth by obtaining a retail store front, despite still renting a kitchen and having lots of office supplies still at home.

Having a retail space and weekly markets allowed me to add more truffle flavors to my offerings. In addition to my every day flavors, I incorporated monthly and seasonal flavors as well, along with the occasional fun flavors to play with. We started to receive a bit of press, first with the Ball State Daily News and, just before Christmas, Cheri and I were featured in the Wall St. Journal. What an extraordinary wrap up to the end of 2017!

We also started offering Guided Chocolate Tasting Events in our cozy retail space. We wanted to make the experience of eating chocolate to be intentional, enlightening, fun, and more thoroughly delicious. During these events, we were even more transparent about where our chocolate comes from, our philosophy regarding business, and we were able to deepen relationships with folx in and around Muncie. There are doubtlessly individuals with more expertise in chocolate than I have, but I am endlessly curious and passionate about chocolate and I want to share that with anyone who might be in arm's reach or shouting distance.

As such, my wife pushed me beyond my limitations and encouraged me to leap to the next branch in our business evolution: finding a brick and mortar space to build out my very own kitchen. A Chocolate House to call our own and to make everyone's. With a Chocolate House, we could expand our chocolate offerings, spread more knowledge about chocolate, and hold space for those who just want to be welcomed as they are. 

I loved the idea but I wasn't sure I had the confidence to accomplish this on my own. I was scared. I don't have any experience in opening a Very Serious Business and I don't have much in the way of mentors or all-important resources. But my wife believed in me enough to keep pushing and came up with our financing idea of opening our business up to microinvestors. We had eleven separate $1,000 investments plus an angel investor join us in our journey.

Excuses and feet-dragging were replaced with YouTube and asking questions and getting comfortable with being ignorant in a lot of areas of regulation, construction, and business-to-business relationships. I decided to be open about not knowing things and trusting professionals who are paid to know the things I don't. Granted, this leaves a person vulnerable, and I was and am vulnerable, but in most cases I ended up being helped by trustworthy individuals. Even when I run into challenges from other folks, it isn't necessarily because they aren't trustworthy, but maybe they are in their own journey of transparency and are vulnerable to being seen as not knowledgeable. It is frustrating, but I have grown in my ability to be persistent. I am proud to say we will be out and open for business within a few weeks. 

Going into my second year of business is not really much different than when I was about to launch. I still feel like I'm in over my head but I love chocolate and don't want to stop working with it. I also love people and want to cook for them and share with them my passion for food. I hope those things about myself never change. But this upcoming second year will be marvelous and I am eager to discover the ways in which I will be surprised in how Queer Chocolatier grows.

Small Business, LGBTQIA

Expanding my business has introduced me to Shadow Morgan

I feel like a walking shadow version of myself.

I think folx generally like to fancy themselves as good people, good friends, and good partners. Include me in that camp. But, deep down, we all know the few times we could have all been a better friend to someone (letting a call go to voicemail instead of answering) or a better person (I don't pick up every piece of litter I see, but I sure as hell take back my shopping cart to the space it belongs because I'm not a monster).

What I mean by Shadow Morgan, though, is I feel something different and shifted in addition to not feeling like a good friend or wife or person.

  • My energy is shifted. I feel less extroverted than what I usually feel.
  • My home-cooking is different and uninspired, mostly because of a lack of appetite.
  • My interest in anything new, unless it is complete escapism, has waned.

But I don't let calls go to voicemail anymore. Mostly because a lot of those calls have rightfully just stopped coming through.

Is it worth it?

I have this very question in my head that works like a nagging snooze alarm. It's nagging in the sense that it comes around way too often, but irregularly so. Usually at times when I am feeling particularly low.

Funny how I don't often ask this of myself when I have good moments and days.

It gets increasingly difficult to remember and focus on those good, solid wins and it isn't fair to make my wife the Keeper of Good Memories when I am the one who needs to have them in my back pocket. It also isn't fair for me to look externally for the answer of "Is it worth it?" when I am actually living out what I know is a dream.

The honest answer is a begrudging yes. Yes, sigh, it is worth it. Gosh!

What to do with Shadow Morgan?

I figure Shadow Morgan is not just a phase, and isn't just a contextual phenomenon that is tied to the expansion of the business. Yes, I'm sure stress is manifesting itself in some ways. I've certainly become grayer, but I actually like that (and it helps that Cheri likes it, too). But I think the truth might just be a bit beyond the stress of this stage of the business.

I think I may actually have depressive symptoms. 

And, purely speaking for myself as I do not care to speak for anyone else who experiences depression, I kinda think coming to this conclusion is a good and healthy step for me (although a confirmation rather than my amateur diagnosis would be wiser). I can explore more clearly my moods and thoughts as they come to me and I can practice a bit more reflection as to how I come to feel the way I do.

Do I intend to go on any steps to medicate myself or pursue therapy or eat nothing but turmeric for a month? 

Maybe.

I don't care for the mockery of those who rely on medicine to cope with their day-to-day lives. I also don't particularly care for the mockery of those who follow acolytes who peddle snake oil. 

I care for people. 

I know that lots of folx are hurting and experience that hurt in a myriad of ways. I know that a lot of people seek refuge in whatever way they can. To that end, I know that there are others who seek to take advantage of those who are seeking help.

Those manipulative assholes can go jump in a lake.

Depression in the LGBTQIA2+ community

Our community experiences significant mental health issues at a greater rate than the general population. Much of our mental health stems from society's treatment of queer and/or trans* folx. Yes, we can get married now, but that was never the main issue for the diverse queer and/or trans* community as much as it was for cis gay men. We still face stigma and discrimination, both on the micro and macro levels (see Oklahoma's new bill signed for "faith-based" agencies to discriminate against LGBTQIA2+ couples from adoption).

Major depression is one of the two mental health issues queer and/or trans* folx experience, along with generalized anxiety disorder. Which means it shouldn't really be too much of a stretch for me to come to understand that I may be experiencing depression that is just manifesting at a time that is also coincidentally stressful.

  • I've isolated myself more than I would care to, but I don't have the spoons for a lot of company either.
  • I find confirmation of my failures rather than my successes.
  • My overall self-esteem is lower than what I would call usual for myself (although, to confess, it was quite high to start).

But, ultimately, coming to see this for what it is will allow me to make adjustments in my life, to communicate these adjustments, and to better manage my own expectations of myself and others.

Shadow Morgan adds another dimension to Morgan, it doesn't replace me altogether, nor is it something to "cure" or "push through" to "get over." That language is fairly violent. It can cause a lot of self-harm to someone who hears those words as a constant message. 

Our happiness/comfortable-driven society can go jump in a lake, too, for all I care because we need to address mental health with the dignity and respect it deserves.

New expectations, but same end goal: Open a damn fabulous chocolate house

Opening the Queer Chocolatier Chocolate House is still worth it. I need to say it more emphatically, in all honesty. And the reasons are countless in number. One of them is pertaining to this post: I care for the well-being of myself and for our queer and/or trans* family. 

I'm no doctor, although on my way to becoming an entirely different sort of doctor (which I totally and thankfully bailed on), I learned over and over again the importance of communities, spaces, and places and our personal connections to them. Queer Chocolatier is more than just tasty, ethical chocolate. We are queer and we demand to have a space carved out for queer and/or trans* folx and for those who stand in solidarity with us. 

  • We will post access to resources, both in our chocolate house and on our website for the days you just can't quite leave your own home.
  • We will create a library for folx to hear stories that more closely reflect their own.
  • We will have Homo Decor pieces to warm your own spaces.
  • We will provide ways of connecting folx so that bonds can be created and strengthened.
  • And we will keep making damn fine chocolate along the way.

Reminding myself of the things Cheri and I plan to do with our chocolate house, and reminding myself that no one else is building what we are building, is a way for me to peek my head above the fog for a moment and keep in mind that, yes, this is all worth it. 

And even Shadow Morgan agrees. Albeit, begrudgingly. I'm okay with that.

Small Business

It takes a village to build a house...in the Village.

It takes a village to build a house...in the Village.

I'm a headstrong, stubborn queer woman.

Occasionally, I'm reminded of this but not always in a negative way.

Expanding Queer Chocolatier into a chocolate house is one of the most positive ways I've been reminded that my stubbornness in doing things on my own is not needed here. 

Doing things on my own is, largely, a trait borne out of being a only child. It also comes from a place of lack. And, I'm more than sure that my own self-assuredness and ego has a role to play.

But, I've learned (and am learning) that people want to help and rally around those they unapologetically love. 

Coffee cupping for the first time at Quills Coffee in Louisville, KY.

Coffee cupping for the first time at Quills Coffee in Louisville, KY.

The new year has brought a whirlwind of joy in the form of new knowledge and new connections. I'm learning so much from so many that my head is on a happy lil swivel. Seemingly everyone I meet has a way of contributing and bettering the upcoming Queer Chocolatier House. If it weren't for all of these folks chipping in, sharing, absorbing, blending all of their knowledge, expertise and passion, I would not only have a slow and lonely go of it, it wouldn't have the depth and richness it is bound to have.

I'm not only honing in on my chocolate passion and encountering other choco-philes (who host podcasts I listen to!),
I'm learning about business modeling from a friend I've known for a decade.
I'm learning about branding philosophies from a kind and creative soul I've just met.
I'm learning about coffee from roasters, equipment vendors, former baristas (including my wife) and former coffee shop managers.
I'm learning about queerness and gender from countless people everyday.
I'm learning about buildouts, remodels, and design from my father-in-law and my aunt along with others who are passionate about architecture and interior design style.

How could one person build that wealth of knowledge on one's own??

Maybe it is possible. But then to take that knowledge and act on it? That seems like quite the task. Luckily we have folks who believe in us and our vision for our contribution to our community that they are contributing financially and knowledgeably.

And I know I'll continue to need help along the way, and there are many ways you can join us in our venture.

The Village will be made all the better and sweeter for their efforts.

Thank you from the bottom of my headstrong, stubborn queer heart.

 

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