Indulgence, under $50: My first love brought me chocolate. I was 16, and it wasn't actually love, I just thought it was. My date was

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Cuckoo for Cocoa

Nothing will do for the sweet tooth but the purest form of pleasure: chocolate!

Indulgence, under $50: My first love brought me chocolate. I was 16, and it wasn't actually love, I just thought it was. My date was a smart fellow: He instinctively grasped that the fastest way to this woman's heart comes in foil, little white boxes, and delicate wax paper. The box was small but earnest, containing a safe variety of milk and dark chocolates, truffles and caramels. I've since grown to be something of a chocolate snob (milk chocolate is bastardized chocolate) but in those days, when I didn't know my Hershey's from my Valrhona, this was an exquisite offering. I hoarded them under my bed, occasionally—magnanimously—bestowing one upon my sister, like a small gold nugget. Despite the obvious Valentine's Day association, chocolates and candies really do pull their weight as holiday gifts. They are a) savored by all, except dentists, b) often prepackaged in elegant, ornate little bundles, taking the burden off the gift-wrapping-impaired, and c) really quite cheap, as far as presents go. "Penny" candy also works marvelously in stockings; and candy canes are age-old Christmas tree decorations/December 26 snacks. Here's an overview of what the Seattle area has to offer in the way of gifts sure to add 10 lbs to any lucky recipient: Specialty Chocolates: Perhaps the most celebrated chocolatier in Seattle, Fran's is located in Seattle and Bellevue. The stores have a similar look and feel to the mall-variety Godiva, but there is nothing generic about these chocolates. Particularly sumptuous is the Blanc & Noir ($36/lb, about $1.08 each) a blend of white and dark chocolate, and a perfect companion to a chilled glass of milk. Another favorite, Dilettante, has four locations in the Seattle area. Their flagship store on Broadway in Capitol Hill also houses a caf鬠and serves up fantastic cakes and sundaes. Despite notoriously slow service, this is still one of the best places to purchase fresh chocolates in Seattle. Most chocolates go for $1 each, including the dark cherry cordials, which come in bright purple foil and pack a powerful cherry punch, and the ginger truffle, with bittersweet chocolate and New Zealand ginger. This last one tastes a bit like ginger-snap cookie dough, and it's surprisingly good. Finally, the Champagne Truffle Romanov (also $1), is a delicious blend of semisweet chocolate, champagne, and strawberry. A box of these belongs under everyone's tree. Godiva, the Cartier of cocoa products, always spells luxury. As presents, they're sure to delight, with their elegant gold packaging and variety of gift boxes, like the 1-lb assorted Ballotin chocolates, in a choice of three holiday boxes ($36). Truffle lovers, take note: The hazelnut and dark chocolate are particularly good. (All truffles: $32/lb; located in Northgate and Bellevue Square). It's out of the way, admittedly, but Bakers, a coffee shop/old-timey soda fountain in Lake City, has a lot of charm. One house specialty will make the trip worthwhile: seafoam. This chocolate-covered treat has a spongelike buttery molasses center. The operative word here is butter, but that's what makes it so good. Choose between milk and dark chocolate, but be warned: The center is extremely sweet, best complemented with the dark chocolate ($12.95/lb). Chocolate Staples: Need I say more than Frango? Packed in those familiar, fun hexagonal boxes, the small-but-not-too-small chocolates can please any crowd. "Assorted" is always the safe way to go, but one flavor worth checking out is the White Mint, white chocolate covering a mint-chocolate core. After a huge holiday meal, this is the perfect treat for those who claim they can't eat another bite. I got my 8-ounce box at the Bon for $7.99—a steal! Attending that New Year's eve party at the in-laws? You can't go wrong in bringing a festive gift box from the California-based confectioner See's Candies. Are they preparing their bunker for the scourge of Y2K? Lighten the mood with a $22 "collector's item" Millennium Tin, a navy-blue tin carrying an official-looking seal and an assortment of truffles and chocolate pieces. If you're a fudge purist like me, you'll opt for the nut-free, with a not too-hard texture and a creamy finish.This is just what you'll get at Seattle Fudge. Located in Seattle Center and on Pier 57, Seattle Fudge sells a wide range of sweets—from saltwater taffy made before your eyes to caramel apples. But the name says it all: This is a place for serious fudge-lovers ($8.99/lb for all fudge). Online Retailers: In addition to these local merchants, a number of Web sites offer excellent gift packages to appease even the most discerning chocoholic on your list. If you can't—or don't want to—get to the store for Fran's finest, visit her Web site (yes, there is an actual Fran) at www.franschocolates.com. There's a whole section dedicated to elegantly wrapped gift items. My favorite: the Hand Crafter Washi Box, a wooden Japanese tea box covered with intricate designs on a washi paper covering, containing assorted Dark Chocolate Truffles. Warning: This is not your prom date's chocolate—the smallest box will run you $48. For those willing to walk on the wild side, point your browser to www.chocosphere.com and select an "adventure" gift bag. For a slightly discounted price, you'll receive a selection of at least four of the high-end chocolate brands represented on the Chocosphere Web Site. This assortment will contain dark, milk, and white chocolate items. Pick from four styles of bags in three sizes. The "cosmos" white bag with gold stars is definitely the most seasonal ($20/small, $35/medium, $60/large). www.chocoholic.com sells the one gift that I will nudge every member of my family about, until someone eventually signs me up. (Sis, are you reading this?) Membership to the Chocolate of the Month Club grants you door-to-door chocolate and chocolate sauces for as long as you sign up, which doesn't have to be annually; they also do three-, six-, and nine-month subscriptions. The 1999 calendar boasted a diversity of brands, from popular names like Ghirardelli to lesser-knowns like Grand Avenue Chocolates. Entry in this club isn't cheap ($25 a month), but it's a great way to sample esoteric brands you'd otherwise never see, shipping included. I'll be happy with the three-month membership, though, I swear. Orianda Guilfoyle is a freelance writer living in Seattle.

 
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