Friday, July 10, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Peru Maranon 87%

I felt certain that I had reviewed Zak's Chocolate's Peru Maranon bar before--until I checked against my labels and didn't see it. Checking for Peru Maranon, though, brings up the one from Ritual Chocolate that I looked at last August. That one came in at a standard 75% cacao, while this Zak's bar is 87%. You can buy it from them in 70%, as well, or even the three bar flight that also includes a 99.9%. Usually the 80's range is what I gravitate toward when it's available (I say when because for most companies, 70-some is the standard).

The smooth and silvery chocolate aroma I once again wanted to describe as smoky yet still found the word not quite right. As the chocolate begins to melt, there is a light bitterness that develops into a lightly deep taste; it is rich and earthy. The flavor softens, with a tang on the edges, before coming to a delicate finish, especially for something that began with that feathery bitterness.

Granted, of course, the bitterness varies depending on when in the day you eat it. I always take my initial notes on chocolate around 11:00 in the morning; at 8:00 PM I still got about the same flavor, but there was zero bitterness in the early afternoon.

I suppose I'm rambling in order to say that while I use the word bitter, I would not call this a bitter bar of chocolate. It's rich and loamy, like what the trees were eating at the feast at the end of Prince Caspian (surely there are Narnia people still out there who get the reference, right?). That makes for a fascinating flavor: at once simple and chocolatey while also textured. Quite similar, then, to the effect I'd observed in Ritual's chocolate, as well, just stronger here because of the higher cocoa content. As for any more comparison between the two bars, I'd have to have them side by side or at least be looking at them with less time than nearly a year in between.

I'd recommend this particular chocolate bar for when you're wanting classic, rich chocolate flavor with an edge to it. This bar highlights that slightly higher cocoa percentage well, allowing for deeper chocolate flavor without strong bitterness.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Diet Is a Noun

When I was in first grade, we had to do a report on an animal of our choosing. My favorite animal at the time was a horse, so my mom helped me make a barn and I hot glued one of my toy horses into the setup (hot glue being perfect because after the report is done, it just peels right off without damaging the toy). We also had to write out certain facts on our chosen animal: habitat and diet, things like that. Diet, yes, that means what they eat.

I think perhaps our everyday vocabulary too often forgets that diet isn't just a verb; it's a noun, and not just a noun referring to the verb. Everyone who eats has a diet, but that doesn't mean that you're "dieting." So being aware of your diet as "how you eat" is something that we can all do.

This is why I've been focusing not so much on things to not eat as on things to eat. Instead of focusing on not eating, for instance, potatoes, which I used to always buy, I've been enjoying berries. Who even knew I enjoyed berries? I always said, I don't like berries, do you want the berries off of my dessert? But the berries I've been buying are pretty nice.

I guess it was like that with a lot of things, though. I only recently starting eating artichokes; now I'm rather in love with them. It took a while to warm up to asparagus, that elegant vegetable. Growing up, I used to always eat each bite of salmon with some salad greens because I didn't really like the salmon otherwise; now I forget the history behind that and think that it's just flavor pairing. Some things you just have to get used to.

Not that you need to get used to everything. Tomatoes I cannot eat because I simply don't like them--and fittingly enough, I now find that tomatoes, even in things like sauces, probably aren't a suggested food for me personally. Dandelion greens would be very healthy, but even my bearded dragon doesn't eat those; I thought arugula was strong until the day I tried dandelion greens.

I simply mean to say, enjoy eating good things. Food makes such a difference, as does out attitude towards it. Find what foods are healthy towards you personally and eat them. There are so many foods in the world (especially if you're living in a country where you can walk into a store and pretty much buy whatever food you can think of), so don't focus on the ones you're not eating; focus on the ones that you are enjoying. When I did that report in first grade, I didn't list all the foods that horses don't eat; I just wrote down what they do eat.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Songs of Change

Last fall, I was keeping close the Hillsong United song "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)." Consider those words: "Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, where my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior." Those are powerful words; don't say them idly.

As 2020 began, it was Michael W. Smith's "Waymaker." This song is about declaring who God is and then letting him take you where you will go. The declaration: "You are waymaker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness, my God, that is who you are." The promise: "Even when I don't see it you're working, even when I don't feel it you're working, you never stop, you never stop working." Early on, it was clear to me that 2020 was a bridge year for me; it began when I asked to go where I could not go on my own. And where I am now I could not have gone on my own--and I'm still not all the way across that bridge.

2020 has affected us all in different ways and yes, even for different reasons. Most of us, though, have felt that 2020 is unique from other years. So what do we do with that?

Well, we keep our eyes heavenward and let the bridge take us where we can't go on out own. And if you're wanting louder music than the two songs previously mentioned, I've also been listening to Skillet a lot lately, so might I suggest "Terrify the Dark" or "Breaking Free."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

GoodPop: Chocolate Fudge

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

In celebration, I thought I would give a nod to some ice cream in the form of the organic, vegan, gluten-free, fair trade Chocolate Fudge Pops from GoodPop. As I've mentioned, it's nice to see more types of products, not just chocolate bars, making an effort to join the fair trade movement.

While I don't drink milk, I also don't buy ice cream very often, so when I do I've usually just been buying regular ice cream. I'm thinking now, though, to go back to the non-dairy options. That section of the store has changed, though, since I last took a good look at it. It used to be all about soy ice cream and now there seemed to hardly be any made with soy. It's all about the coconut cream now. And I'm not exactly thrilled about that.

Everyone is choosing dairy alternatives for different reasons, so I can't generalize. But a percentage of people cutting out dairy might also be cutting out coconut cream (distinct from coconut water). And there is also the percentage of people who simply don't care for the taste of coconut, as I so emphasized in my review of the Charm School white chocolate a couple months ago. GoodPop does not use coconut cream in all of their products; it's only in the creamy, milky ones like the Chocolate Fudge, Coldbrew Latte, Orange N' Cream, or Strawberry Shortcake. So fruit pops like the Watermelon Agave or Cherry Limeade will still be clear of coconut.

Does that brand still even exist that made those wonderful tofu fudge pops? Those were good, nothing "alternative" about them even to me as a ten-year-old. Anyways, these are a little different from standard, dairy fudge pops, but not too much. Yes, there is a light coconut flavor, but the chocolate is strong enough that the coconut sinks to the background. I probably would look to find another brand I could try next time, but if for some reason these were the only fudge pops I could have, I'd be okay with that.

They have a somewhat richer and darker color than is standard. They also seem to take a tad longer to thaw to a comfortable eating temperature and soft texture. I should mention, also, that the only sweetener here is coconut sugar. Given that the ingredients are all pretty minimal and of quality, the flavor here is good. Your focus goes to the chocolate, which is rich and creamy. And that's exactly what is called for in a summery indulgence.

So provided that you don't mind the inclusion of coconut cream, these chocolate pops are a nice non-dairy option. Now I think I will go continue celebrating by putting a patriotic hat on my bearded dragon.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Black Butterfly: Patagonian Wild Guava Tea

The reason that I have not reviewed anything from Black Butterfly since October 2018 is that Tracy Taylor makes many beautiful chocolate bonbons and such small chocolates are better eaten right away if the weather is warm. They usually can't take a drive back down to the valley, unless properly stowed in a cool environment (which is certainly not the way I keep my car, air conditioning or no). So while I have been there a few times in the last year or two, somehow I've not reviewed anything.

And now is the time to remember to spotlight the small businesses. So now I have a Patagonian Wild Guava Tea bar to share. Besides the chocolates in the glass case, Black Butterfly also always has speckled bars like this and bags of bark and such like. The chocolate here is a 61% dark and the Patagonian Wild Guava Tea is from Nectar Apothecary. Talk about spotlighting small businesses. Nectar Apothecary is also a favorite of mine. They sell bulk herbs and teas and oils and shea butter. They also have an amazing bar dish soap. They're just around the corner from Black Butterfly, so you can always visit them in pairs.

What exactly is in this tea, you ask? Well, Chilean wild guava, quince, linden flowers, strawberries, and eucalyptus. It all sounded pretty normal until we got to the eucalyptus, right? The tea makes a thick snake on the surface of the chocolate bar. The look is quite feminine, what with the pale fruit and the light red strawberries contrasting against the dark brown background. The aroma of the chocolate is quite sweet.

Because the tea snake runs through the middle of the bar, the first bite was mainly chocolate. Smooth and sweet as expected, like semisweet chocolate chips. Because it has been hanging out next to the fragrant tea, even the plain bites will have just a hint of other flavors to them. Mainly, though, of course, you taste the tea when you bite into it. As I was taking that second bite into the heart of the tea snake, I smelled the eucalyptus--and then tasted it.

 I was transported to the Arboretum in Southern California. To childhood, that is. So in fact, the light and fun, sweeter dark chocolate goes well with that feeling. While eucalyptus first sounds a little different to have in chocolate, something about it is akin to mint, anyway, isn't it, and mint is more common than anything in chocolate. Eucalyptus being a strong flavor, it does tend to dominate. But there is also a zingy flavor from the fruits that goes along with that lighthearted, outdoorsy, summery feel.

Initially I'd thought it would be nicer to have the tea cover the whole bar instead of just that snake in the middle. But the flavors of the tea can in fact be quite strong, so having a buffer isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're going to eat more than two bites. But given that it's so flavorful, I'm more of a two bite person on this one, not surprisingly. Once more, Black Butterfly brings chocolate that is both beautiful and artfully flavored.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


In the interest of not seeming like I am becoming solely a chocolate blog, I thought I'd best put out something besides weekly chocolate reviews (I almost just put out two reviews this week rather than post about anything else). I have not been posting much because I simply have not known what to write--and sometimes have not had either the inclination or the energy for it.

I'm serious about the energy part. I've been saying, I'm exhausted, at least a couple times a day for the past week--and not because I have been exerting anymore energy than usual. While that would make for a topic, one likes not to write about things publicly until one has something more complete to share and can then decide what exactly to say. Suffice to say that I may have the virus to thank for not rushing out to have surgery before considering other options.

Emotionally we've all been all over the place, except that I'm always all over the place emotionally. I'll talk about my emotions by proxy in public spaces like this blog. That is, I'll say how I felt going to a certain place or reading a certain book or watching a certain show, etc. Reading between the lines probably says a lot about where I'm at at any given time, but I don't go outright and say much.

I have been reading more again, so you'd think that might give me something to post about. But I'm reading a lot of movie books and that sort of thing and usually those don't make for good discussion topics. For a while, all I was watching was YouTube or Wishbone (that wonderful 90's children's show with the Jack Russell Terrier who would draw parallels with what was happening with his middle-school owner and with classic literature).

I guess I've just been overwhelmed and mentally tired. And now that I'm feeling physically tired, I'm feeling better mentally, isn't that funny? I feel content and happy and hopeful. I feel more myself again. I've been floating around through the spaces between tree leaves and all the way back down to the tree roots deep in the ground, that's where I've been. And now I find myself sitting above the ground, with my back against the tree; the tree feels nice, something strong and sturdy.

So maybe now there can be more posts again besides just the chocolate reviews. And don't worry, those won't stop. There are already a few in queue.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Roasted Barrel Cactus Seeds

Enter a tourist shop in Arizona and you will find gummy prickly pear fruit candy and scorpion lollipops. But what if instead of these, you took home a bar of locally made chocolate adorned with barrel cactus seeds? It's novelty as well as gourmet. And it just plain makes sense, as I will outline.

Zak's Chocolate here in Scottsdale uses their 68% house blend for this bar. It's part of their Snacking Bars line, which takes kind of a bark concept, with ingredients on other bars being things like ginger or raspberries. So the 68% chocolate is a lightly sweet dark chocolate that keeps the tone mild and not too deep while still delivering rich chocolate flavor. This way you can enjoy the seeds or the ginger or the raspberries without feeling like you're giving all the focus to the flavor notes of the chocolate.

I first came across roasted barrel cactus seeds just last year at Native Seeds down in Tucson (though a small shop, they have a wonderful selection of products; I highly recommend paying them a visit if you're in town). They're tiny dark seeds, about the same size as sesame seeds or maybe even a little smaller. I tried out putting them on my appetizer board for Thanksgiving; they're fun to gather on the edge of a piece of cheese.

With chocolate I wouldn't have pictured them but why not? We add nuts to chocolate frequently and sometimes seeds, too, though less commonly. And I've been highlighting all of the collaborations that Zak's Chocolate does with other small businesses lately--so this is taking things a step further and using what is also a locally-sourced ingredient. The coffee and the cocoa beans have to be brought in, but the barrel cactuses are in the state already.

Flavor-wise, the barrel cactus seeds don't have a huge taste on their own. Maybe this is also because they are so small. They do somewhat enhance the earthier side of the chocolate, but mainly they contribute texture. They're much smaller and denser than crisped rice and they're not crunchy in the same way as nuts. In fact, the texture is much more like that of coffee beans, being that they are also a seed that we roast. It's a surprisingly great texture. Not that I was expecting it to be bad; I just didn't expect to enjoy it so much. As you can see, there is a medium amount of seeds on the chocolate, so it's just enough that you can lightly crunch each bite.

I tend to have mixed feelings about crunchy chocolate (that is, chocolate with nuts or something like that in it). Sometimes I enjoy it; other times it feels like it detracts from the chocolate. A lighter crunch like this, though, feels more natural. So what I thought would just be a fun gourmet novelty bar turned out to be quite wonderful.