You have to do a lot of unusual things as a carer. Almost as many unusual things as when you are a parent. In neither role, though, do you expect to be required to supply your son with mind-altering substances, yet that is exactly what I have been tasked with doing this week.
One of the hidden side effects of a brain injury such as that suffered by my son, is an over-sensitivity to stimulants of any kind. A single cup of instant coffee can have the same effect on him as a quadruple espresso would have on me and the same holds true of other substances that most of us would find innocuous. Including chocolate.
No, I am not talking about the expansion of waistlines… that would definitely be me who suffered the greatest effect there. Sadly, he did not inherit his metabolic talents from the maternal line and to test his theory I would have to eat so much of the stuff that my diet would consist largely of chocolate. But he has found a surprising benefit of consuming the stuff.
My son has a preference for very dark chocolate, the stuff with eighty-five per cent cocoa solids, and he started to have a small piece at night before bed. He noticed that, when he did so, his sleep was unusually deep and his dreams vivid and lifelike. Finding that odd, he experimented and took note. There was definitely a correlation between the amount of chocolate he consumed and the depth of sleep and dream.
It is not all that surprising, considering his sensitivity to stimulants. As far back as five thousand years ago, the Olmecs, Maya and pre-Columbian civilisations of the Yucatán were using cacao in spiritual ceremonies. You have to wonder about their sensitivity too and whether they also experienced enhanced dream states. Perhaps my son had stumbled on something older than he could imagine.
There are any number of studies and opinions on the health benefits of the cacao bean and it has long been a tradition to drink a cup of hot cocoa before bed to ensure a good night’s sleep. The amount of cacao in that beverage made with milk, though, is not huge and perhaps it is the milk that does the trick. Except, apparently, for my son.
“Do you think you could make me some dreamcakes?” he asked, after a particularly interesting foray into dreamland. I had momentary visions of being obliged to concoct something illegal. “With the raw cacao…” That sounded safer. He has these horrid, bitter cacao nibs that reek of vinegar rather than smelling of chocolate. They are hard to eat and not particularly pleasant either… but shoved through the blender and reduced to finer fragments, I thought I could come up with something.
You can’t cook raw cacao and expect it to retain its properties…especially seeing as how we don’t know what properties are causing the effects. That made baking cakes a bit awkward. I rummaged through the kitchen and fell back on a variant of good, old-fashioned ‘cornflake buns’.
A handful of dried strawberries, a spoonful of the good manuka honey and a small heap of the raw cacao were mixed with as many of his fancy breakfast cereal clusters as the bar of darkest, melted chocolate would absorb. Dollops of the gooey stuff were allowed to set in the fridge. He sampled one and pronounced it worthy. But gastronomic pleasure was not the point and I awaited the results next morning.
“How were the ‘dreamcakes’?”
“You’ll have to make some more…”
I’ll take that as approval, then.