Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Shifting Shows

My first regular concert was Chris Tomlin in the early 2000's. While I've been seeing a lot of live shows in the past few years, concerts have remained more rare for me. It's seemed easier to go see a play or opera than a concert--the ticket-buying is often easier and the general experience seems to work better with solo attendance, which is usually what I've been doing. 

Now that live shows have started up again, after the break I'm readjusting what sort of shows I go see. The time for solo attendance may be coming to a close. The C.S. Lewis play was a great reentry in. Quickly following that was an invite to see Jeremy Camp. Whether or not I've been much of a concert-goer, that was a pretty easy yes. Jeremy Camp has long been one of the top Christian artists. And do you know what? Attending this concert with a group may very well have been a better use of $30 than attending an opera solo.

Maybe concerts don't give me as much blogging content as another type of show might. Instead, though, I felt included and comfortable in my being and part of the audience. Instead of just looking at something aesthetically, I was looking philosophically. I was glad to be part of this space in which people were gathering to give God the glory. (Not to say that I suddenly have anything against enjoying aesthetics or plays or operas--I'm just describing how the experience was different.)

Lots of things have been shifting for me lately. And if the type of shows I go see ends up shifting, too, well, that may be a good thing.

Monday, October 11, 2021

C.S. Lewis on Stage

The journey into Heaven must, by necessity, mean ridding away every trace of Hell. C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce describes a bus ride from Hell into Heaven; the narrator observes various other characters and what they are unwilling (or occasionally willing) to shed or leave behind in order to proceed into Heaven. The Fellowship for Performing Arts was in town with their production based on the book (previously they have also done The Screwtape Letters, though I didn't catch that one--and they have the upcoming film The Most Reluctant Convert fast approaching). This take was adapted by Max McLean and directed by Christa Scott-Reed.

The excellence of the production is shown by the fact that it would seem to be, based on the book, to be a tricky adaptation to make, and yet watching the production itself felt so seamless and fluid. Four actors took on all of the roles, set dressing was mainly limited to their four suitcases, and a large screen on the back of the stage that allowed the transition through the, um, limitless spaces. So there was a stripped down quality to it all and yet great richness in what was portrayed. This was a case of positive use of a screen; it allowed the audience to see the many landscapes described in a way that set dressing could not have done. And yet it didn't detract from the simplicity of a plain set, and the plain set allows for focus on the dialogue.

This story is, after all, mainly dialogue. At 90 minutes, it was short enough to keep attention spans from wandering. The interactions between the characters also keep rolling along at such a pace that each mini scene only has to hold your attention for so long before it is over and replaced by another. So there were no pacing issues; never did I feel like I was getting bogged down or like the pace was too slow. Instead, the interactions made quick work of describing the core features of each character and his/her struggle or vice. 

Like I said with the book, it's easy to see oneself most strongly in a particular character. I'm not sure if this was because of the adaptation or simply from seeing it on stage instead of on the page, but I also felt particularly like I was seeing aspects of society and of the church in the different characters. Rather than this being accusatory (that is, for us to see others as "the problem" rather than ourselves), it helps with compassion. C.S. Lewis in general addresses people's real concerns and questions. So with this sort of portrayal, you have a chance to get into someone's perspective and see what holds them back or what they don't quite understand about your perspective that leads them to not agree with you. 

Even though there is heavy content in this story, the play ended up being ultimately uplifting. There is the consciousness of the danger of holding ourselves back--but there is also hope in the realization of that departure out of all things related to Hell and the entrance into Heaven. There is great joy in the hope of one day leaving pain and the shadow of death behind. So you could say that this play helped put things in perspective. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

What He Created

When it was coming up on my birthday a little while back, I saw that was having a big end of summer sale. So I made a big order as a sort of birthday present to myself. It's a big deal since I don't normally do a lot of online ordering--but because I don't, I like to go big when I do. So if you've been glancing at my Goodreads widget lately, you've probably mainly been seeing books from this haul. 

I won't be talking about all of them, but I have to share the first one I read. Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good by Jess Connolly was so good that, as I was reading it, I wanted to recommend it to everyone. There are a lot of different ways that you might feel about your body, or about bodies in general. So some people might really feel like they need a book with this title and others not so much. But I think it's an equally good read for whichever perspective you're coming from. 

The gist of her thesis is that God created our physical bodies and called them good, and therefore they are good and we don't need to view them as lacking. It's a simple statement, but you can spend a lot of time unpacking how your daily thoughts and attitudes do or do not come into alignment with this concept. It might be criticism towards one's own body or towards other people's. 

Jess briefly mentions how the body positivity movement really helped her to feel more comfortable with her body. The interesting thing about this is that it's had the opposite effect on me. As someone who is both short and naturally thin, I've always had people feel free to observe to me that I'm thin/skinny as if it is something wrong. I see stores advertising having sizes for everybody (all the way up to such and such plus sizes) and yet I pick up their smallest size and see that it is too big for me. So I end up feeling like I am not accepted and shouldn't accept myself. We all have different experiences and different bodies, and we should not be criticizing other people's bodies nor our own. (This is of course different from taking care of one's body so as to take care of what God has given us.) I've been on a journey to not feel like there is something wrong with the way I am physically--which is different, though with overlap, from my other journey of getting my health in balance. 

Jess intentionally kept this book, as she puts it, sort of surface level. Mostly when people talk about body issues, they go in deep on eating disorders or weight or abuse. What she says isn't generally so specific, and therefore it's applicable to everyone, whether someone struggling with an eating disorder or someone feeling shame after abuse or someone criticizing her own stomach (or someone else's). She kind of opens up your eyes to all of the little things that we do/say/think that contribute to feeling like our bodies are lacking. 

And her emphasis on the physical body being a creation of God reminds me a bit of C.S. Lewis. He talks in some of his writings and also portrays in Narnia and his other fiction that God created the physical world. The Christian perspective is so much about reminding ourselves of spiritual truths--but it isn't meant to be in a way that neglects the physical world that we currently live in and that God created. Yes, we look forward to a day when we don't have bodies that get tired and sick, but isn't it also amazing what these bodies can do? And as Jess points out, they are the vessels that we are currently in so that we can experience and live life. They are what allow us to observe all the different senses, and they are what allow us to serve others and to experience God. "Your King loves your body and gave His life so that you might experience Him in your body here and now and see your body restored in eternity" (39). It's about God's glory, not ours. This book is very freeing and allows you to accept a comfort with yourself and who you are.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Eldora Chocolate: Goat Milk 70% Dark

Earlier this month, I described my visit to Eldora Chocolate in Albuquerque. I was impressed with the impression I got of the small batch, bean to bar, organic, and fair trade company. So I walked away with a truffle, four chocolate bars, two soaps, a lip balm, and a body butter. And did I forget to mention anything else? It's difficult when you're right there to not walk away with the whole store, but at least I got a few things. The one I was most eager to try was the 70% Dark Chocolate Goat Milk bar, so we'll begin there.

I recently wondered if anyone was making a milk chocolate with goat milk instead of cow's milk. I've had goat milk fudge, and there are plenty of dairy free milk chocolates. But I don't always like the dairy substitute they use--and for me at least goat milk is supposed to be better than cow's milk. So while this bar is a dark chocolate not a milk chocolate, the inclusion of goat milk is of great interest. 

The outer design of the packaging is in perfect balance. No clutter, and the white provides both a sleek base as well as a rustic, handcrafted charm. Depending on where it is displayed, either of the two angles might become more emphasized. So it hits the gourmet market but also settles into that New Mexico chic. And the goat drawing is cute with its subtle smile without being cartoony or otherwise overwhelming the look. 

Inside, the bar is sealed in clear wrap, which isn't my favorite option as it isn't the easiest the rewrap. But at least the envelope-style of the card box makes it easy to pack up anything you're saving for later. The squares come with the simple diamond design; its surface is dark with warm undertones. Smelling the chocolate, I do find a rich chocolate aroma along with a little something else. I probably wouldn't be able to put my finger on it otherwise, but knowing that there is goat milk that does seem to be the base of that extra aroma. 

There's a good snap to the chocolate, and then right away on the tongue I get that slight goaty taste that is familiar from goat milk and goat cheese. I broke up the bite just a bit to get the flavors going and found that there was indeed a definite goat milk taste along with the chocolate. It overpowers the flavors in the sense that lavender chocolates tastes primarily like lavender or orange chocolate like orange. The focal point here is the goat milk flavor--which can be an acquired taste. There's quite an animal quality to goat dairy, though being dairy it does also add a touch of creaminess. The finish perhaps is the creamiest. Overall, though, it remains still more like dark chocolate than milk chocolate in structure. So this isn't necessarily a replacement for the effect of milk chocolate--though it is just creamy enough that it could be an alternative if someone really needed it to be. 

Replacement possibilities aside, it's just nice on its own. Though I can't taste too much of its nuances, the chocolate is good; it's warm and rich. (This is Eldora's Domincan Republic Zorzal cocoa, by the way.) In fact, this is quite a puzzle for my senses because there is that almost creamy element from the goat milk, and yet the chocolate seems otherwise to almost be darker than 70%. It isn't sweet; you only get tricked perhaps into thinking of sweetness because of the goat milk. But think about it this way. Usually in a 70%, the rest of the percentage is made up with in sugar. Here it's made up with both sugar and powdered goat milk. So there is in fact less sugar here than you would normally find in a 70%. That must have been a tricky ratio to figure out, to get the right balance.

So it's good. It's different and yet simple. It's a nice luxury treat yourself bar but also a fun one to share just because it's different. A real foodie item in addition to a chocolate one, and though I love to bring up the idea of adding chocolate to appetizer or dessert boards, this bar begs to be on a cheese and fruit board. And given how well they balanced out the goat milk flavor, I'm a little disappointed that this was the only flavored chocolate bar I got from Eldora. There's always next time, eh?

Monday, September 27, 2021

The River Runs On

Water brings life and death as it flows along, and the seemingly ever-present river is always changing. (As Pocahontas put it, "you never step in the same river twice.") The river, in a sense, is change. And a drop of water will travel from one river to another and to another and down from one region into the next. Ever flowing, ever growing. 

The Salt River has long been a favorite Phoenix pastime, especially among the young. Yet I had avoided it as a college party zone. And also of course you can add to that any concerns about the unpredictability of said changing rivers of water and their rapids. Earlier this month, however, I found myself floating down that very same river which I had always avoided. I happened to be there on my thirtieth birthday, and it happened to be a good way to usher in the new decade. 

We visited mid week and after the tubing company had mostly finished its run for the season. So there were very few other people, neither any beer cans nor marshmallows. Instead there were ducks and a plethora of butterflies. The late summer rains brought an abundance of caterpillars that by this point had made their transformation into winged creatures that flew around us. One landed on my shorts and tried to suck nectar from the printed flower on the fabric. Sorry to disappoint you, little butterfly.

Despite it being a warm day, being on the water (and not even being in it) did keep us cool. It's quite a treat to be able to spend time outdoors in the sun during summer without melting. The rapids we floated over didn't cause any trouble except for when they brushed us over to the trees hanging over the edge, but even then there were no mishaps. There is certainly great wildness in rushing over rapids over which one has no control; it's a little different from the controlled environment of Disney's Grizzly River Run, where you have no fear of anything going wrong. 

Because of time constraints, we made the short distance between Points 1 and 2 before exiting. It was also nice to start small. The time passed quickly. While it is possible that the fear of the ever-changing, never again the same river will keep me from going again, yet it was such a pleasant float down the water that it would be nice to begin participating in this favorite pastime regularly. 

Do you fear change, do you fear the unknown? Maybe this is why I have a sometime fear concerning watery situations. The doers infected with wanderlust dive into the water. Whereas I stare into its foggy depths overwhelmed by the possibilities. 

Monday, September 13, 2021

New Mexico Part 7: Eldora Chocolate

Click here for Part 6.

At only three years old, Eldora Chocolate is a fairly new addition to Albuquerque. Steve and Andrea Prickett are committed to healthy and organic ingredients as well as fair trade practices, so there is a good foundation to the bean to bar company. You will find their shop behind a black metal sign on a rustic street. The storefront has that farm shop look with its white trim and wood beams. 

The farm touches continue on the inside decor, though you will also find a quite elegant cacao bean wallpaper. I wouldn't mind having some of that wallpaper myself. The shop is set up so that you can see into the production space. You can see machinery going on one side and the employees making chocolate products in the space behind the front counter. 

On the menu in front of that lovely wallpaper, you'll find drinking chocolate and coffee, as well as prices for the chocolate bars, truffles, energy bars, and creamers. The front case of course displays truffles, and there are also notes about ice cream and a French milkshake. 

Wander to the right for more shopping to find a beautiful display of body butter, lip balm, and soap. It's only so often that one comes across chocolate body care products that are made with cocoa instead of artificial chocolate. So this would already be an exciting find. Add the fact that heart soaps are gorgeous, and I was briefly a bit overwhelmed by my delight. 

Since I wasn't getting a cup of drinking chocolate at the time, maybe I ought to have brought home a bag of it. The Chai especially would have been nice to try. But there were so many chocolate bars for me to have to narrow down. I ended up with one flavored and three single origin. There was a variety of flavors, though, as well as some more unique origins in addition to the more common ones. 

I also appreciate the display of faux cocoa pods. You can have real, dry pods--but the faux ones captured the vibrant colors in pictures of freshly picked pods. And in any case, while I may have my own cocoa pod at home, most people have never seen one at all. Glass jars of cocoa beans beside the pods help complete the picture of what chocolate is as being made from fruit seeds. Because of the very casual, farm home/shop style of the decor, these elements of chocolate education are approachable rather than lofty. 

Speaking of approachable, while in the shop, we were offered a spoonful of chocolate straight out of the conching machine. While it might just look like a spoon of melted chocolate, I was thrilled to get a firsthand taste of the chocolate making process. 

I only got one truffle, the Lavender of course. It's made with lavender from Los Poblanos, which as I've already mentioned is unbeatably fresh and fragrant lavender. It is then easy to say that this is probably the best lavender truffle I've ever had. 

I walked away from Eldora Chocolate in quite a state of excitement despite having barely tasted any of their chocolate at that point. In the coming days, I'll be putting up my reviews of the four chocolate bars as well as the body care products. 

Saturday, September 4, 2021

New Mexico Part 6: Campo

Click here for Part 5.

We are almost to the end of our journey. July's New Mexico travels brought us to Kakawa Chocolate House, Sazon, Canyon Road, and Los Poblanos. Now we'll take one final look at Los Poblanos, specifically at their restaurant, Campo. Because the ingredients are fresh, the menu changes seasonally, so the selection may vary from what was available when I was there. 

Campo hits that casual-chic New Mexico style. You can show up for breakfast in shorts or athletic clothes or a cotton dress. For dinner, the cotton dress would fit, too, though you can also dress up a bit more. I liked to go with the slightly dressed up angle paired with comfortable shoes. Seating is mainly outside, overlooking the gardens with the Sandia Mountains distant in the background. 

The first dinner there included the Lavender 99 cocktail, Grilled Squash appetizer, Carrot Cavatelli, and Chocolate Cherry dessert. As I've mentioned, lavender is the main product from Los Poblanos, so any chance you get to try out a new lavender product from them is a good idea. The lavender cocktail was fresh and light and floral--exactly my brand of cocktail. If you like floral cocktails or lavender, it's a don't miss. 

Grilled Squash are an easy win for me, too, because zucchini is a bit of a favorite of mine. The pasta at Campo is made in-house, so the Carrot Cavatelli was excellent. The pasta was the right texture, and the flavors of the sauce were nuanced. The Chocolate Cherry was nice but didn't stun me; I'm picky with desserts since I already have a couple of great chocolate recipes at home.

Breakfast brought another amazing lavender choice, the Lavender Latte. I've had three different lavender lattes this summer. One didn't taste strongly of lavender. The other had more of that peppery lavender flavor and was also somehow too creamy. Campo's was by far the best. Los Poblanos has the best lavender, so whatever type of food or beverage or beauty product they add it to receives such a fresh and potent burst of lavender that it's unbeatable. 

I also got the Monte Cristo because Disneyland. Monte Cristo sandwiches make me feel like I'm bringing a touch of Disney into my day.

Peacocks wander the grounds, and one came to visit our tables.

If you're on the go while visiting Los Poblanos but still need something to eat, there is also the Farm Shop. The gift shop area sells their lavender products as well as other sundries. The food counter sells coffee, pastries, sandwiches, and other grab and go items (like crackers, cheese, bottled beverages, honey, chips). We picked up sandwiches from there for lunch and took them to the Rose Greely Gardens to eat. Normally I don't eat ham, but do you see this ham and cheese? Do you see that bread? Talk about simple perfection. 

I also ended up with a Chocolate Lavender Gelato from the Farm Shop that was very good. 

And I got a Lavender Spritz from Campo to walk around with. If you find grapefruit a little strong on its own, lavender makes for a nice accompaniment. 

When dining at Campo for dinner, you will also receive an amuse bouche before your food. The first night it was pate on crackers. The second night was slices of cucumber. I guess you can tell which I was more excited for given that I have a picture of one but not the other.

This second night, I had the Campo Margarita, which is also made with lavender. As a margarita, it was very nice, but perhaps floral cocktails are more to my taste than margaritas, even with lavender. 

Appetizers were the Warm Potato Salad and Baked Goat Cheese, which was a lovely cheese with lovely bread. 

Because I had enjoyed the pasta the first night, I went with pasta again with the Spaghetti Carbonara. While it was still good, again I found that the Carrot Cavatelli had been more to my tastes, which moved it into the wonderful range. The spaghetti would appeal more to someone who likes bacon. 

Dessert this second night was the Sweet Tea Sorbet, which is a new way of interacting with green tea.

The final visit was breakfast again, which included the Chai and the Seasonal Omelette. 

While Campo is a welcome restaurant if you're staying on property (and very much enjoying being on property without wanting to leave just to eat), you can also dine there even if you're not staying. Either way, you'll find a delight in flavors and freshness. What makes food good is not just what happens after it arrives at the restaurant's kitchen; it's also everything that happened in the lifespan of the ingredients. Dine at Campo for that farm to table elegance. 

Click here for Part 7.