Friday, September 30, 2016

Pralus: Fortissima 80%

Ah, Pralus, my dear. This name has been synonymous with fine chocolate for about as long as I have known of the existence of fine chocolate. I got their 100% cacao bar from Kakakwa Chocolate House back in 2008 and it was truly an eye-opening/chocolate-world-expanding experience. This bar, the 80% Fortissima, is also from Kakawa Chocolate House, and it's the last of my Santa Fe chocolates (next I have a series of chocolates someone brought me from Utah).

When choosing which Francois Pralus chocolate bar I wanted, I simply looked for one that I don't think I had tried before. And the 80% cacao content of this Fortissima bar sounded just right. This chocolate is a blend of Criollo, Forastero, and Trinitario cocoa beans. Once again, there is no vanilla added to the chocolate because there is no need for it. Now, this bar was $12 (Kakawa's prices can run a little high, but it's worth it considering that they have such a good selection there), but it's a large 100 gram size--plenty to last a long time.

Like seemingly all the chocolates I brought back from New Mexico, this one has a light layer of bloom on the surface. You can, however, still see that nice, simple design of the chocolate. It breaks into nice small squares that are just the right size for tasting. There is a deep cocoa aroma.

Immediately on tasting, the chocolate feels smooth. It tastes deep, like earth on the ground in the middle of the woods. Then the flavor smoothens out, like the emergence of a pond of cool water. A taste of berries comes in from a wild berry bush. Not quite a fruity taste, I'm calling it a light berry taste, set on top of the richer, almost earthier, creamy base. The flavor simplifies as it finishes; it becomes a layer of creamy, chocolate mud in my forest metaphor. The aftertaste is thick and rich and light, nice and simple and straightforward.

Given that I tried my first two Pralus chocolates in my early days of chocolate reviewing, it would be possible for them to not live up to the image of perfection I used to have. Yet such is not the case: this chocolate is very well done with such control of the process and the final product (no wonder Pralus is one of the few chocolatiers who can actually pull off, not just make, a 100% chocolate). This is what chocolate should be like. I find that I only need one small square of it at a time because that one piece is satisfying in such a complete way.

This chocolate has no pretension, from the simple, light brown wrapper to the straightforward flavor. It simply tastes wonderful, and that is what is remarkable.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Day 21 & Homecoming

Click here to read my post on the first book, The 100. I've decided to combine my comments for the next two books in the series into one post, though I wrote them at separate times. 

Day 21

First I watched The 100 the TV series (the three seasons that are out so far, that is). Then I started reading the books. The first one was alright, since I went in knowing that it would be very different from the show. But I mistakenly thought that it was building up to more complexity that I would see in the next installment, Day 21. So now I've finished this second book disappointed that it stayed short and simple. (I'm also keeping my comments short and simple.)

Maybe the shock comes because the TV show can be for both teen and adult audiences, while the books seem to be written for fourteen or fifteen year olds. The structure is very simple (more like the structure I would expect from a book for eleven or twelve year olds, in fact). While I don't necessarily mind simple structure (one of my favorite books ever, Skylark, is written for eight year olds and I read it for the first time only a couple of years ago), I mind the simplicity in this case because I was used to the complexity of the show. That is, the show keeps the focus on point but also develops complexity of characters and culture.

There are some cultural developments in the books that don't exist in the show--the class system, for instance. And the orphans. But everything about the Grounders (called Earthborns instead) is not just different but also simplified. Simplified to the point that the Earthborns made me really miss the Grounders--and I don't even get great themes to make up for the loss of details. (Because, you know, if the themes are still great, I can go without the details.)

The problem, for me, was that this book feel like it was repeating itself (is there any distinction between Wells, Bellamy, and Luke?) and taking the whole space of a book to not go very far. I read it quickly and wanted to keep reading it, but in a more passive way. I guess what's bothering me is that I wanted to really like these books and, well, perhaps they're just not written for me. I can enjoy them while I'm reading but they don't stay in my mind afterward. We'll see if that changes for the next one.


I would have thought that by the time I got to this book, where I knew that the plot was going to be different from the show because the events weren't even slightly related anymore, I would be enjoying it more because everything was new and the suspense and all could be real.

Such, however, was not the case.

I enjoyed this book least out of the three. I read it the slowest and I felt completely disconnected to it as I read. Everything I read fell flat, leading me to the final conclusion that this book series is not for me. With that said, I don't feel like it's either fair or necessary for me to try and dissect what I didn't like. If I had read this series in one go before starting to write up my posts, I wouldn't have posted at all. So I'm just going to end it there and recommend that adults who don't read exclusively YA books don't pick these up.

Monday, September 26, 2016

The 100: The Book

Click here to read my initial thoughts about the TV show version of The 100.

Usually when I start in on a story in one medium, I have to finish it in that medium before seeking it out in other forms. For example, if I watched one movie, I have to watch all the movies before reading any of the books, or vice versa.

So while I didn't even know if I would ever feel inclined to read Kass Morgan's The 100, I did figure that I would at least wait until the show ended. After all, I felt invested in certain things about the show, and I knew that the show was only loosely based on the books--so there would be a risk in reading those books only to have them take apart the things that I did like.

The thing is, as time passed, I wanted more of the world of The 100. So here are my thoughts on the first book in the series (there are three out right now, with a new one coming in December--I have no idea if there are more planned for after that or not).

It is true that this book is very different from the show. While the show follows characters of different ages and a variety of themes and plots, the book is much more YA. There are four narrators; the oldest is twenty and the rest are in their teens. So you always have the youth perspective on events. In some ways, the book characters feel more innocent than their TV counterparts--and not just because the whole Lord of the Flies feel is almost completely gone (for this first book at least).

Though you still have certain main characters like Clarke, Bellamy, and Octavia, others are different. There are missing characters (Finn is on the book cover even though Finn isn't even in the book) and different characters (Glass is interesting) and some characters that basically serve the purpose of characters in the show. So you definitely can't walk in expecting everything and everyone to be the same (Bellamy, for instance, is very different from how he appears at a few key points in the show). But maybe this is a good thing: with the book and the show being so different, it's easier to keep them separated in my head and just enjoy them as individual stories.

I am disappointed about one thing. As I watched the show and collected all of those great quotes, I wondered if those came out of the books. I thought that if the writing was like that, then surely it was good writing. But I don't think I recognized a single quote, even from the less significant ones. The writing is fine, but it wasn't at that elevated level that I was kind of hoping for.

The themes are a little different, too, as is the approach to right and wrong and politics and order and all of that. I called these teens more innocent than the ones in the show, and I think that carries through into the concept of responsibility. The characters in the show, no matter their age, struggle with the weight of their actions. The book characters have a little less of that weight--at least, they only have it in terms of personal relationships. Doing this hurt that person I cared about, that sort of thing, rather than doing this was wrong because the repercussions were this and this. But I am still at the beginning of the story, so it could be that their experiences widen as time goes on (which I know it will because a big part of the story only just started on the last page).

I suppose that's all I have to say for now. I enjoyed this book in a casual sort of way, and I'll report back when I finish the next one.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Le Macaron: Truffle Selection

In Scottsdale, there is an outdoor shopping mall with two names. On one side of the main street, it is Kierland Commons and on the other side, it is Scottsdale Quarter. On the former side is Anthropologie and on the latter side are Sephora, the Apple Store, and Paper Source. I usually find myself more on the Scottsdale Quarter side, and yet somehow I had never seen the pastry and chocolate store there.

It's toward the end of one of the rows, past Paper Source. I usually don't wander around here, I guess, or even look at the directory. But there it is, a bistro-like shop with a glass front and pink sign. "Le Macaron," advertising macarons, pastries, truffles, gelato, and coffee. Inside, the shop is impeccably clean, decorated in bright colors against white for a modern and bright look. Paired with all the white, the pink doesn't look girly, just youthful and happy.

I will, next time, have to try the macarons, but I did get a just a taste of the violet gelato. I'm not an ice cream person, but I could have happily finished this one myself. To say that it was very good would be an understatement. If it's anything of an example of their other flavors, this is a great stop for gelato.

But I was, of course, after the truffles. They're all lined up in their glass case on black squares. They're attractive and singular-looking. Once again, we have the bright splashes of color, colors that I don't usually see on truffles: bright blues and pinks and purples. I took home the following three flavors.

Chocolate Chocolate - This one is shaped like a long pyramid, with splashes of blue, hot pink, and purple. Plain chocolate is usually my obligatory flavor for trying out a new chocolate maker because it shows what they're capable of and what their style is. The ganache is smooth, and while the chocolate is dark, it's definitely on the sweet side. The taste of the ganache is creamy and the chocolate tastes of berries. It's nice.

Milk Chocolate Vanilla Bean - Kind of weird to eat a chocolate in the shape of lips, but okay--it definitely gives the youthful and cool look, especially with those pink and light blue color splashes. The inside of this chocolate is a little lighter in color than with the Chocolate one. It tastes like caramel, then it tastes of vanilla--the type of vanilla that they spray into the air on Main Street in Disneyland to make it smell sweet and nostalgic. The chocolate is noticeably different from with the first truffle; it's sweeter here. And the ganache tastes rather like a vanilla caramel. It's a nice, sweet chocolate, just not quite what I was expecting from the name. Not simply "Vanilla" but "Vanilla Bean" implies something less confection-like.

Strawberry Reisling - A round shape painted purple with some light blue on top creates something like a pretty, funky flower. Very nice. Now, I do want to point out that the bottom layer of chocolate on this truffle was quite thick (same situation with the Vanilla Bean, actually); it needs to be thinner to match the sides and to make for better biting. I wasn't sure if the inside would have some color to it, but it has the same chocolate look as the Vanilla Bean's. You get the strawberry flavor in pretty quickly, though; it has the flavor effect of strawberry jam with creamy butter. The chocolate is more on the sidelines, a flavor to hold it all in rather than to take the dominant place. Funnily enough, this one didn't feel as sweet as the Vanilla Bean did. I like the creamy taste paired with the strawberry; that made for a unique effect.

Overall, they're nice little chocolates for when you're out and about and want a bite of sweet. I would probably keep on trying new flavors before coming back to these. But I would keep trying them. I'm uncertain how to categorize them, though. They're neither sophisticatedly serious truffles nor what I call confections. They're made well but kept sweet, probably in order to have a wider appeal. So they land somewhere in between all of my categories. So I'm putting them in the dessert category. They do have quite nice boxes, too, which would make them good hostess gifts--or gifts in general.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Far From the Madding Crowd

After watching this movie, I was excited to post on it--but then I kept putting off writing out my post, almost as if the story's impact on me was too personal. Now I think I've figured out why.

Let me first take you on a detour. Out of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair was usually one of my least favorites, along with The Magician's Nephew. I came to decide that these were the least likable stories out of the seven because the main characters in them fail--and as we read their stories, we are reminded of our own failures. (All of the books in the series contain failures, of course, because that's how the characters learn--but the failures just seem more central in these two than in the rest.) And it isn't always pleasant to be reminded of how we fail.

In Far From the Madding Crowd, Bathsheba Everdene begins with a familiar story: she is educated but poor and yet she doesn't want to marry because, essentially, she wants to belong to herself. Then the plot changes: a series of events lead to her financial stability and she proves herself as smart and hardworking, worthy of the place she has been given and capable of maintaining it. But then there is that question of love, of marriage.

There is the man she refused, the man she refuses again and again, and the man to whom she says yes. She says yes to the man who seduces her because seduction is new to her, and so despite all of her strength and independence, she didn't realize that she was supposed to resist this seduction because it was not love. Her failure nearly ruins her, personally and financially--only certain events and her own realization can set things right.

I loved this movie, overall. Bathsheba felt like such a fresh and unique character and I love that she has herself together most of the time but makes those mistakes that color in her character and make her come alive, make her become relatable. It's strange, perhaps, that I'm comparing the sense of failure in this movie to that in The Silver Chair while also naming this the reason that I disliked the latter and liked the former. Maybe the difference comes because this was just a movie with a happy ending (though it has some pretty heartbreaking material in there, too) and so any message in there becomes easier and lighter to swallow.

It was also just such a good-looking movie to watch, with lush English countryside and all of these sheep and wonderful skies and storms. Production worked together with theme, whether we're talking locations and sets or music or cinematography (and since I haven't mentioned elsewhere, Carey Mulligan was wonderful in this role--this is probably her best work). I don't think I've ever watched any movies based on Thomas Hardy novels (and the only one of his works that I've read was Jude the Obscure), so it's just overall been a new experience.

With Victorian novels, it's often (perhaps not always, but often) a good thing to have some sort of introduction to the story before reading. Back when I first saw the trailer for Far From the Madding Crowd sometime last year, I considered trying to read the book first--but I think it worked out better this way. This way I was able to simply enjoy the creation that is this movie. I'll get to the book later. For now I'm just going to picture Bathsheba riding horses and working her farm (she reminds me of Beatrix Potter at the end of Miss Potter in this regard) and going over to talk to Gabriel. Hers is an entertaining story and a little reminder to think and act clearly and to recognize a good thing (and a bad thing).

Monday, September 19, 2016

A View of the Grand Canyon

As I was flipping through this thin, hardcover book about the Grand Canyon at an antique store, I noticed there were Bible quotes next to many of the pictures. That took me by surprise. I looked over at the cover then and saw the title: Grand Canyon: A Different View. Ah, that explains it. Naturally, then, I bought the book.

At about a hundred pages, this isn't exactly a long book, but it has more than just quotes next to pictures. It's divided into different sections that each have a couple of pages of content from different writers (it's put together by Tom Vail). Most of them have doctorates and a few have masters; only one has neither (he's a speaker and author). I'm not certain if the text is mainly excerpts from their works or if this is content written specifically for this book. The distinction makes little difference to me, though.

I said that this isn't a long book. So I wasn't expecting it to get very in depth in science and such. Because I wasn't expecting too much depth, though, I found that it did go through a lot of important notes. Now, there are certainly other books on the subject if you want more. This book provides either an introduction or a brief look. I was just happy to find this kind of perspective.

Basically it's about this: when you look at the Grand Canyon scientifically, you're either looking at it from an evolutionist or a creationist point of view. And then you're either looking at it with the idea that the Bible is a literal history or not. Taking it as literal means that it's also a history, so therefore the earth is only thousands of years old. The Grand Canyon, then, was presumably formed in the aftermath of the Flood.

One of the people in here describes how he used to tell people about the layers in the canyon forming over millions of years but that never made as much sense to him as seeing the canyon as the result of a global flood. I hadn't realized that the Grand Canyon is one of the big pieces of evidence creationist scientists use to explain why a young Earth and a global Flood both make sense. One of the big points that stood out to me is the "knife edge" between different layers: if there had really been so many years in between the layers, then there should have been erosion there instead of such a straight edge. And so forth.

In addition to scientific observations about the rocks, fossils, and animals, this book also brings us to an interesting point that I hadn't really considered in terms of the Grand Canyon before. We always look at the Grand Canyon and say, wow, how beautiful and awesome it is, what a beautiful creation. But it wasn't "created" in the sense that it was part of the original Earth. It came about because of the Flood, which came about because of God's judgment of Man. It's beautiful--but it's also serious.

Once you've read this book through, it's like a coffee table book, something you can flip through to look at different sections (the photography is great, by the way, and offers more than just the usual canyon views). It's also a reminder to not bend and to look for your own evidence and explanations.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Domori: Chuao 70%

Once home, I found myself wondering why, out of all the chocolate bars for sale at Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe, I had chosen one from Domori (also one from Pralus, which I'll review later). The thing is, I think I confused the name with something I once got from World Market and felt neutral toward--but on further review, it seems that I've never come across Domori after all. My instincts, then, on choosing this bar of chocolate out of the bunch were right on par.

Domori is an Italian company, and the look of their packaging implies elegance and quality. The card box is textured like handmade paper, with the sides shining in gold. The touch of red, in addition to the gold, adds refinement, while the soft sketch of cocoa pods adds softness and a sense of history.

The cocoa content, 70%, of this chocolate is average. The type of cocoa, however, is not. This chocolate is made with Criollo beans from Chuao in Venezuela; Chuao cocoa beans are generally considered the absolute best. Amano's Chuao is the one that immediately comes to my mind--while it was amazing, though, I could never decide if it was my favorite of their bars (all of Amano's chocolate is wonderful). Also somewhat out of the ordinary for Domori's bar is the two ingredient list: cocoa and cane sugar, no vanilla. That speaks to confidence: exceptional chocolate needs no vanilla.

As I opened the square card box, I almost thought that there was a mistake: it felt empty. Inside is just a little wrapper with a thin, four square bar inside. It's a 0.88 oz./25 gram bar. There was some very light bloom but nothing to be concerned about. The chocolate aroma is nice and smooth, light and elegant.

The initial taste is sweet, then almost bitter, then it becomes nice and deep. There are blue notes of cocoa nibs, then what I like to call silver flavor. The coolness starts warming up as the chocolate melts. A hint of spiciness comes in as you pass the halfway point. Neither thin nor dusty, the mouthfeel is smooth and rich. The taste, too, is an extremely rich taste of medium dark chocolate flavor. A slightly spicy aftertaste lingers after the chocolate melts. Absolutely amazing.

This is one of the best chocolates I've ever had.

For comparison, the notes on the packaging are as follows: "An immediate perception of nuts, almonds above all, followed by honey, vanilla and cream: great sweetness and smoothness." Yes, I didn't use the word sweetness because it has negative connotations when it comes to chocolate, but it was there, and I definitely noticed the sweetness. The honey and vanilla I can see.

And you know something? This chocolate tastes very familiar, as if I know it but can't remember from where I know it. Perhaps it reminds me of other Chuao bars I've had (I think there might have been one other besides Amano's but I can't think of it right now). This doesn't really matter, though, because this chocolate completely won me over. Great flavors and very well handled as far as texture and everything else.

You see, my dears, this is chocolate, and this is why other products are sweets, not chocolate. This is gourmet.