Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Chubby Gets Cheated

January 28, 2015

I learned at a tender age that life isn’t fair, some things don’t live up to their hype while others seemed designed to fool you.

I can’t recall how or when I became addicted to chocolate. Like George Costanza, I’d long worshipped the “dark” master. There was something about the stuff that attracted me; chocolate was a magnet and I had a load of pig iron in my pockets. My parents did their best to shield me from temptation, but parents can only do so much. I was too deep into addiction to listen. At a tender age, I was a cocoa-crazed miner always panning for chocolate nuggets.

When I was six or seven and had gone days without a chocolate fix, I suffered acute withdrawal. My Easter supply was gone, along with Halloween stash procured on the streets. The dessert drawer in our kitchen was empty. I checked the freezer. To avoid fights between me and my brother over ice cream flavors, my parents bought Neapolitan, which satisfied no one. Besides, instead of ice cream it was cheap ice milk, and I’d already eaten all of the waxy chocolate in the carton a few days earlier.

I pulled a chair up to the kitchen counter and climbed up to reach the overhead cabinets. There had to be chocolate hidden somewhere. Once before I’d struck pay dirt in those kitchen shelves, discovering a can of Hershey’s Instant powdered chocolate for those rare occasions when chocolate milk was permitted.

I remember standing on our countertop, breathing heavily from exertion in my tight striped t-shirt with the cuffs of my junior huskies rolled halfway to my knees, removing a spoonful of dark powder and shoving it into my mouth. The taste was fine, but unfortunately some of the powder wafted into my nose and I sneezed, launching a dark cloud of chocolate that billowed over the kitchen. I barely had time to clean up the mess before my parents could discover what I’d done.

I foraged about, almost tipping over the jar with Mother’s precious bacon grease, until I found the object of my quest—a heavy bar of chocolate, baking chocolate according to the wrapper. It didn’t surprise me that this treasure wasn’t handy; my mother seldom baked. She insisted her family didn’t need the calories, but the real reason had little to do with our welfare; she hadn’t the knack for it and didn’t want to be compared to other mothers in the neighborhood who could bake a chocolate cake from scratch or create one that looked exactly like the picture on the cake mix box. Mother’s cakes were edible but not visually appealing, usually resembling something that slid out of the backside of a grizzly bear.

I shoved the chocolate bar under my belt and climbed down. Back in my room and safely ensconced behind a closed door, I pulled it out and inhaled the intoxication of rich dark chocolate. When I could control myself no longer, I pulled back the wrapper and bit off a sizeable chunk, chewing with wild abandon.

My piggish eyes must have squinted with anticipated pleasure—until they bugged open in horror. What the F#*K?

My mouth dropped open, and a vile-tasting mixture of saliva and bitter baking chocolate spilled down my shirt, giving the appearance of someone who’d been trying to eat dirt. My brain couldn’t wrap itself around what had happened. Never before had chocolate let me down. In years to come, weight specialists would convince me that chocolate was NOT love, but back then I wouldn’t have believed it.

Of course my mother chose this moment to push open my bedroom door to see what I was doing and shoo me outside to play. She studied my look of revulsion for a moment, and spotted the partially wrapped bar of unsweetened baking chocolate. Before walking away, in a tone hardened from frustration at failing to convince me to make better food choices, she said, “Serves you right.”

After learning that baking chocolate contains no sugar and tastes worse than dirt, I managed to curtail my consumption of chocolate. This experience gave me a taste of something else—the knowledge that evil hath power to assume a pleasant shape; things aren’t always what they seem. Too bad it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way.


What’s the most unpleasant thing you’ve ever bitten into?



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oh, too funny. i detest gristle of any type. eek!
By: TexWisGirl on January 28, 2015
At seven years old I'm betting you said something different. Our generation didn't use that word until we were 14. Funny story, and I can relate. I think everyone's mom had that chocolate baking stuff and they never warned you that it didn't taste good. Also funny is that it was always behind the coffee can of bacon grease.
By: Cranky on January 28, 2015
Yuck! What's the point of unsweetened, tasteless chocolate? I drank three day old hot sauce by mistake in Japan. In my defense, I was only three and thought it was juice. I think I cried.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on January 28, 2015
Great post, as usual! God - I was almost a pensioner before I dared rifle through the kitchen cabinets looking for food. Then dad would come home and thrash us w'belt; tell that to kids today and they don't believe you.
By: Mike@A Bit About Britain on January 28, 2015
I am trying to think of stuff I did not like the taste of and all I can think of was the time my brother talked me into tasting my ear wax!
By: Tabor on January 28, 2015
I was in a lot of ways, just like you.
By: Daniel LaFrance on January 28, 2015
My first taste of cilantro. Now i can tolerate it, but i prefer not to have to do so. As for baking chocolate, i love it, along with unsweetened cacao nibs. To each his own, i guess!
By: mimi on January 28, 2015
Oh, my. What a memory. I, too, learned the hard way about baking chocolate. Awful stuff.
By: maryellen bess on January 28, 2015
Fun story Stephen. Our early lessons are usually painful which keeps us from repeating them. I use unsweetened cocoa in my coffee maker each morning along with a few shakes of cinnamon.
By: Akansas Patti on January 28, 2015
I've used baking chocolate but never tasted it solo. Worst thing I've bitten into? My sister's hamburger. We were on vacation in Minnesota. She had a friend along because she was a teenager. They were playing pinball as they ate their burgers. I, the little kid not allowed to play, was watching when I accidentally picked up the wrong burger. Oh, the nastiness of ketchup and mustard. I still can't stand them. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on January 28, 2015
Mincemeat pie. Grossest tasting crap I've ever eaten.
By: Bouncin Barb on January 28, 2015
i can relate. chocolate very rarely disappoints. this was one of those times :(
By: Fran on January 28, 2015
A creamed corn casserole. ACK! I mistook it for some tasty cheese dish. It was all I could do not to spit it on the floor. That's frowned upon at school Thanksgiving potluck dinnners, you know.
By: Val on January 28, 2015
Great story. I remember biting into baker's unsweetened chocolate. It's gross. I tried wallpaper paste one time when I thought it was pudding. I still like pudding.
By: red on January 28, 2015
I remember taking a bottle of vanilla and sipping from it as I thought it must be good...bleah! I've never been addicted to chocolate, BUT I do LOVE my hot chocolate laced with cinnamon and hot chili pepper flakes....yum. Sets the morning off with a BANG!
By: Kathe W. on January 28, 2015
PS Russell loves that bitter chocolate in tandem with a lusty glass of dark red wine...go figure.
By: Kathe W. on January 28, 2015
A great story. Made me reminisce too. How Mothers used to keep the bacon grease etc. I also had tried cooking chocolate, once was enough!
By: John on January 29, 2015
Too funny. I've done the same with unsweetened chocolate but somehow it's funnier with you. The worst bites I've ever taken? Anything with cilantro... an unripe persimmon.. and a large bite of what I thought was guacamole on a cracker but turned out to be VERY hot, Wasabi. That was at a wedding reception and I had to reapply my makeup. But my sinuses were never cleaner.
By: Hilary on January 29, 2015
Ah, yes, I remember it well -- that first taste of unsweetened chocolate! I can still remember the taste from my childhood all those many decades ago! However, my husband, being British, had never experienced unsweetened chocolate as they don't sell it in the UK! Early in our courtship, I was preparing a chocolate cream pie and in the process of grating the 4 squares of chocolate required in the recipe when he walked in the kitchen and seeing the tempting dark squares grabbed a big chunk and ignoring my squeals of no don't, you'll be sorry!' popped it into his mouth! Now his pride was at stake because he had so gleefully ignored my warning and I could tell there was a certain determination not to give in to having admit he'd made a mistake!!! But it was hopeless and after about 3 seconds he was washing the foul stuff out of his mouth from the kitchen sink and I responded with gales of cruel laughter!!! And probably the words of your mother, "It serves you right!"
By: The Broad on January 29, 2015
I know I've taken bites of nasty stuff and spit it out but nothing comes immediately to mind except for this...when I was about 6 or so at my friend's house I wanted something to drink so I opened the refrigerator and poured myself a glass of milk. took a big swallow and ran to the sink to spit it out. it was buttermilk.
By: Ellen Abbott on January 29, 2015
I don't have an answer to your final question. Can't for the life of me think of anything. But I too was ecstatic to find baker's chocolate in the cabinet. I was also just as stunned by the taste/texture. But it didn't stop me from devouring any other chocolate I could find.
By: Mitchell is Moving on January 29, 2015
Oh yeah, I remember when I found out that chocolate was NASTY without sugar. A very eye-opening experience... One summer Dr. M & I spent a few days at a Shaker Village in Kentucky. We decided to fork over the big bucks to eat an "authentic" meal in their one restaurant. The meal was so-so, but I was REALLY looking forward to the authentic lemon pie. Sadly, apparently the Shakers used to put lemon zest into their pie filling & it was VERY bitter. :(
By: The Bug on January 29, 2015
I think mine was baking chocolate, too, although liver is right up there. I had just gotten to the point where you spotted the baking chocolate when I was called to dinner so I knew where you were going. But you told it well.
By: Catalyst on January 29, 2015
"Cocoa crazed minor always panning for chocolate nuggets"â¦"resembling something that slid out of the backside of a grizzly bearâ¦" BRILLIANT! I too, was deceived by the baking chocolate as a child. I was also traumatized one Easter morning when I anxiously bit into my big chocolate bunnyâ¦.that was HOLLOW inside. A cheater bunny!!!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on January 29, 2015
The most unpleasant thing I've ever bitten into? That would be my mother's cooking. God love her. :)
By: Scott Park on January 30, 2015
Have you ever have X-LAX? My mother was keen on giving me "a good cleaning out" not matter what the ailment was, so I ate a lot of that chocolate favored horror, and I rather assumed that you had accidentally gotten into some of that. Of course, Iâve also sampled baking chocolate, and it is a downer to realize that chocolate itself really isnât good to eat. Where are you today on chocolate consumption? Do you go for the expensive stuff or will a bag of Costco chocolate drops do?
By: Snowbrush on February 19, 2015

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