A little piece of heaven - and love - in every piece of chocolate

Twelve years ago, a Christmas present changed her life. On an ordinary December day, a close friend handed her a box of chocolate truffles. Innocently, she took a bite and shared them with her husband.

"It was a 'Stop the boat!' moment," says Elizabeth Peckham, chocolatier and owner of Heavenly Chocolates, a Wallingford truffle company that takes chocolate to an ethereal level. "It obviously changed my life."

Peckham, who describes her first truffle as a glorious experience, was an architect when the first chocolate mushroom touched her lips.

However, before that first bite, she and her husband, Guy, were self-described chocolate aficionados. They visited the basement of Frederick and Nelson's to test gourmet chocolate; they were well-versed in the world of high-quality cacao. And yet, the truffle experience caught them off guard.

"We just couldn't understand why they tasted so different from anything that we had ever tried," Peckham says, describing her and her husband's reaction. "I immediately wanted to find out how to make them."

During the year following the first Christmas truffles, Peckham read books, barraged chefs with questions and studied the art of making truffles. The friend who gave her the delectables for Christmas was a Seattle chef; he introduced Peckham to superior ingredients and the concept of fresh chocolate. At the time, people in the food industry had access to high-quality ingredients that consumers did not.

"It felt very unfair that we were missing out on all of that sophistication," Peckham remembers.

With true truffle passion, she accessed high-quality ingredients and, one year after her sweet, life-changing experience, developed four flavored truffles that she and her husband packaged as Christmas presents for friends and family.

"It was really fun. We would stay up late at night working on it," Peckham says, describing the teamwork of their in-house truffle factory.

The couple, who both come from large families (Elizabeth has eight siblings and Guy has five), wrapped their truffles in altered jewelry boxes with labels. Elizabeth included chocolate, mocha, amaretto and Whidbey Island loganberry liqueur truffles in each box.

"It helped having an architect involved," says a smiling Peckham, grateful for her Guy's organizational and gift box-building talents.

The truffles were a hit, and friends and family members loved their Christmas present.

"Valentine's Day rolled around, and I would have requests," Peckham says.

It became hard to fill individual orders. Elizabeth made large batches of truffles and let her friends and family know when they were ready.

"We never intended it to be a business," she says. "I went kicking and screaming, and it only happened when I started selling to people I didn't know."

Heavenly Chocolates, a company whose logo is a truffle with wings and a halo, went public in 1997. It is a business created from an authentic passion for quality chocolate, and it shows. The truffles are made with a fine couverture-grade, dark Belgium chocolate and are hand-rolled and hand-dipped.

They are smooth and complex, and once you have tasted the goods, sadly, the grocery-store chocolate bar just doesn't do. This year, Peckham's 4-year-old daughter couldn't eat her Halloween candy.

"'Oh, Mom, this is yucky!'" Peckham says, laughing as she quotes her daughter. "'Mom, can I have a truffle?'"

The heavenly truffles come in six flavors: amaretto, chocolate, Grand Marnier, mint, mocha and raspberry. It is no surprise that Peckham's daughter notices a difference.

"I believe that you can eat love," Peckham says. "I always put love in as my extra ingredient, and my intent is that anyone who eats this benefits from the experience."

It's not a concept that many people readily talk about, but can thoughts and intentions affect the flavor of your food?

"Whenever I make my chocolates," Peckham explains, "I need to come from a place of loving what I do. I believe that the thoughts I put into the food really do make it taste better."

Peckham uses decadent ingredients, adds a dash of love and only hires people she really likes, so that laughter fills her kitchen.

The air is cold outside. Holiday shoppers stand in long lines, traffic is inevitable and maybe this Christmas season wasn't exactly how you wanted it to be. While the prospect of eating love may sound a little nutty, it also might just be what all of us need.

"There is something about chocolate in the winter that just feels so right," Peckham says, biting into a coppery-colored truffle. The smell of bubbling cacao warms the walls of her kitchen. "Good chocolate is intense - it slows you down and forces you to savor the flavor."

This holiday season, when giving presents to those you love, consider their effect. Whether it is "stop the boat" chocolate or a book on butterflies, the gifts that we give can and do change lives.

Heavenly Chocolates are available at City Cellars in Wallingford, The Confectionery in University Village and The Vineyard Wineshop in Greenwood. Or contact Elizabeth Peckham directly, at 547-0070, or order on-line at heavenly-chocolates.com.

Peckham also teaches truffle-making classes at the University of Washington and North Seattle Community College.

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