Friday, May 24, 2019

Wild Ophelia: Hazelnut Cocoa Toast

While I'm not entirely sure if this bar from Wild Ophelia is new, it was new to me, so I snatched it up, along with another that I'll probably get to next week. And then I kept looking at it and it kept looking at me and I said, haven't we met before? It seemed so familiar, as did the bar for next week. But no, turns out I've reviewed neither of them.

Maybe it's just the concept that sounds so familiar. Hazelnut and chocolate are a standard flavor combination, though a lovely one, as well. And the name Hazelnut Cocoa Toast is reminiscent of Theo's Bread and Chocolate, which I reviewed, oh, probably eight to ten years ago. The card box's design is simple and fun. It has that cutesy/trendy side to it that makes it very young and Instagram-y looking; maybe that's why, while I like the look, I'm also feeling a slight disconnect from it.

Once you open the packaging, the chocolate comes out with a great, fudge aroma--or perhaps it's more like fudge spread specifically. You'll want to chew this chocolate a little because it has teeny little crisped "bread" pieces in it to represent the toast. They're fun, with a texture slightly similar to crisped rice--or maybe more like itty pieces of wafer. That would in fact be the better comparison given that the ingredients lists them as "crushed crepes dentelles biscuits." They do in fact give just the right texture to the chocolate without detracting from or overwhelming the other elements; they just make it fun.

Obviously, of course, we have the welcome hazelnut flavor going on, though it comes along with more chocolate flavor than you would normally find in spreads. This is, after all, the fairly high cocoa content (for milk chocolate) of 41% and Wild Ophelia also has decent quality chocolate, so of course you'll find some better chocolate flavor in here than in a cheap spread (I like chocolate hazelnut spread, but as I've said before, not Nutella because Nutella is just oil).

Let's get back to the bread for a moment. The toasty biscuit pieces bring with them a touch of salt and almost a butter flavor, which help to bring even more of a feeling of toast. It's quite a nice effect. I wish I had Theo's Bread and Chocolate to provide a comparison of the two--though I suppose that isn't really necessary. I enjoyed that bar and I'm enjoying this one, so that's sufficient.

While some of Wild Ophelia's flavor combinations can sound more fun to try than they actually end up being to eat, this one is great fun both ways. A little new and different but mainly familiar--all brought together in a way that is very much for munching.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Apache Trail

Well, you know I was just going to visit the Lost Dutchman Museum. I figured Lost Dutchman State Park would have to wait for another time, but I could go ahead and visit the museum. This was the closest I had been to the mountain that I usually only see from far off. It's an imagination-sparking piece, that's for certain.

Four Peaks

I went to the museum. It's basically a little room with lots of reading material and some collections of artifacts and antiques. In fact, there is enough reading material to fill quite a decent-sized museum, so I definitely recommend going ahead and reading as much as you can while you're there. History about the area, some geology, stories from various Native American tribes about the Superstition Mountains, and stories of all the searches for the Lost Dutchman Mine (they all end tragically, just adding to the "superstition" of it all). Outside, you can visit the church and a couple of other buildings left from the old movie filming location. When the weather is nice, they do have other events and things going on outside. Mainly, though, it's just a nice little spot to visit. Lots of books in their gift shop (a fact they even advertise on their website--and it is true).

That one's Lost Dutchman

It was a nice visit, but I am, as I mentioned earlier this week, so burning alive right now that I couldn't stop there. I was like an addict, like, I can't just sit here and drool at this awesome volcanic thing jutting from the earth and then turn around and be home in half hour. I need more. So I thought, well, maybe I can drive up a little bit more, just to get a taste. But then, you know, I was looking at the map and thinking of all those stories of the people who walked all over this land looking for that mine and I thought, I want to see it all, so why don't I just make the circle around and then go by way of Globe and Superior back to Apache Junction and then back home? (For those unfamiliar with the area, this route starts Southeast of the Phoenix area, continues east and north and then goes back south and west again. A true circle. It is Arizona's first historic highway, the Apache Trail.)

Twists and winding shapes brought me to Canyon Lake, this beautiful body of water surrounded by cliffs. Picturesque, yes, especially after driving through volcanic, crusty, rocky desert (beautiful volcanic, crusty, rocky desert, yes, but quite a contrast to a body of water). That brings you pretty soon to Tortilla Flat, which is a gift shop, a restaurant, an ice cream shop, and a (literally) walk-in-closet-sized museum. A place to stop and take pictures and look at the view.

I kept going and where there had been other cars, suddenly there were done. Where there was pavement, suddenly there was none. When the pavement ended, so did my normality. I got out of the car, just randomly on the side of the road because there was no one there, so why not? Oh, all the rocks and plants, all the colors and textures, they were at their height, more beautiful than anything. My soul stretched across the land and I declared my love for the beautiful of it all.

I got back in the car and kept going. Now, um, I may have not quite realized that the whole unpaved thing was coming until I saw it on the signs. I could have turned around, but it was all too much fun--even getting more than I'd realized I'd been getting myself into was fun. An unpaved, steep road through canyons means driving at fifteen miles per hour. And forty miles of road means, well, I'll let you do the math. The simple fact: longer than I'd expected. I drove more that day than I've ever driven in one go before, so it was kind of exhausting. But completely worth it.

All of the winding quality meant that there were gorgeous views around every corner (and there were lots of corners). It was like adventuring and exploring without getting out and walking. It was almost like off-roading (can you tell I never go off-roading?). The road is so old and so steep and windy that many sections are also one lane. So, you know, if you do meet someone coming in the opposite direction, you both must be careful. And given all of the turns, you have to be extra slow and careful at every turn. But everyone knows this and there weren't too many other cars, so it was all fine. Do, though, make sure you only make this drive with a car that's in good condition and with plenty of water (other supplies are always good to have, too, just in case). Even if your car is fine, you could end up stuck behind someone else whose car breaks down. It's the desert and kind of far from aid, so just be careful.

Knowing all of this just made me enjoy the drive all the more, though. I had music on and I was making loud declarations of all sorts there in my car. A wonderful time for self-reflection.

You can just see the road I'd just come down in the middle of this picture

By the time I passed the sign mentioning that there were ten more miles to the 188, I was getting exhausted from driving on all those curves. So the lookout point over Theodore Roosevelt Lake and above the dam was a welcome stop. After climbing those cliffs and seeing the river flowing through, it was like a reward up on top to find another huge body of water, this time with the crazy bridge running over it. This water was much bigger than the first--and also more open-feeling because it was above the cliffs instead of in their midst.

I've never been so excited to see pavement, too, I might add.

After this, the drive felt more like civilization. Technically this other half of the circle is still part of the Apache Trail, but mainly people use that name to describe that unpaved stretch. The second half was more just a usual, scenic drive. Great views of the mountains. A swing by Globe and a drift through Miami (this little town really caught my eye; I want to learn more about the history of it), then on through to Superior. Rocks and a tunnel and then back through past Boyce Thompson Arboretum, which I talked about on Monday. It was nice to be back in that newly familiar territory I'd so enjoyed about a week earlier. Then back to the city.

A scenic road trip through nature and history. A touch of the past, a touch of the trail. A full immersion into thrilling isolation. That was a fantastic unplanned trip of mine.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Did I Make Up Boyce Thompson Arboretum?

I am alive, burning alive. I'm writing at night when I get home from work. And I'm adventuring, exploring. This is why I don't understand the great desire people have to explore other countries: I still have so much to explore in my own state. (Not that I'm saying you shouldn't explore other countries, or that I would mind doing some of that traveling someday.) How many undiscovered corners are there, how many roads I've never driven, little museums I've never visited?

On one of these I went to Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. I had somehow never been there because it's almost an hour drive from where I am, enough to make me say, oh, I'll go some other time. When I finally did go, my, my, I certainly chose a beautiful day for it. The weather was perfect. Warm without being at all hot. A light breeze and cloud coverage helped maintain the temperature, too. Absolutely stunning day to be outside.

Driving to Boyce Thompson from the greater Phoenix area is like driving out to the Renaissance Festival--and then going on for another twenty or thirty minutes. Absolutely gorgeous land. That land over by the Superstition Mountains is wonderful. Keep driving a bit and it develops more. Bushy yellow flowers decorated the hills, which were themselves beautifully scabby pieces of volcanic nature. A multitude of textures and colors, not entirely unlike Black Canyon City (which is one of my favorite parts of the drive between Phoenix and the Verde Valley).

When I passed the sign that let me know I was entering the Tonto National Forest, I looked at the saguaros around me and laughed at there being saguaros in the forest. It was a moment of, I love Arizona, Arizona the land of so many different environments, which sometimes intersect and brush against one another with beautiful contrast. Then I rounded a corner and saw Picketpost Mountain and I fell in love. I declared my love to the mountain then and there. (I now lament seeing that the Picketpost trail is rated as difficult--that means I'll just be admiring the mountain from the road, at least for the foreseeable future.)

Given that I came to Boyce Thompson just after this, my declarations of love continued. Out loud, too, I might add. A weekday in May meant that I didn't encounter too many other people, so I was mainly by myself. So why not declare to the plants and the view how beautiful they were?

There is a main trail with little, windy trails that go off of it. Certainly there was more ground to cover than I'd been expecting. I spent close to three hours and could've easily spent longer except that I was running close to closing time (I'd thought a couple hours would be plenty). Everything is less "cultivated" than other arboretum spaces can tend to be. That is, there were more cultivated sections. The greenhouses, for instance. But the Chihuahuan Desert Exhibit? It was like walking out in wild nature, though with a path running through it.

Then I turned another way and found myself surrounded by eucalyptus. Shady and lovely. I kept walking and came to the Clevenger House and I was in love again, like I'd just discovered a secret garden. All alone, I was suddenly at a house built into a volcanic hillside and surrounded by an herb garden; I thought my heart had created this place and my imagination was suddenly manifest physically around me.

Then I saw the suspension bridge and said, I want to go on the bridge. I was looking at the gorgeous wash under the bridge and the rocky, hilly, voclanicness in the view--and then I stepped over two more steps and saw Picket Post House, which belonged to the garden's founder, William Boyce Thompson (he built the home in the 20's). I laughed because I had fallen in love with the place he fell in love with all those years ago--of course we both fell in love with it: it's amazing. Then I stepped up the High Trail, which winds up along the hill/mountainside. It's rocky with steep steps, so no flip flops or bad knees for this one. Probably not the best idea to walk alone, either, but I figured that my green dress would act as enough of a beacon if I stepped on a rattlesnake under a rock or something. I'm not a hiking alone person, so this was as close to hiking alone as I feel like I can go: I was completely alone, not another person in view, just the hills and the trees and the sky and the views.

I've had a volcano obsession since I was six or seven (I used to fear them, even "extinct" ones, now I love their symbolic nature). So that's why I say I was in love with everything I saw; it was all me.

I went back around by the Drover's Wool Shed and the Cactus and Succulents Garden and the South American Desert Exhibit and then finally came around to Picket Post House from the other side. Lovely views once more and then the nice shady areas below the house. So many great places to sit at Boyce Thompson--and yet I didn't sit at all.

Now I'm wishing this park were a little closer to me. I could go there all the time. Certain more "northern" aspects of it like the trees and even the washes reminded me more of the Verde Valley, where I grew up--so it had that home feeling even while it had more of the deeper desert feel that I've come to feel akin with after living in the greater Phoenix area for years now.

I would definitely recommend allowing plenty of time to explore and enjoy. For those who need to avoid the High Trail or even the steeper section of the main trail, there are still plenty of quiet paths. Just sitting under the eucalyptus and visiting the Clevenger House would be wonderful. A gorgeous park, with its combination of cultivation, wilderness, and history.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Brona: Toffee Treat

Just some more random, imported chocolate from World Market today, nothing special. Except that, you know, it's Irish chocolate with toffee. So I bought it. You know.

The look is certainly fun. That clear wrapper shows the toffee pieces in the chocolate on one side and all of the Celtic designs on the other side. Quite pretty. The chocolate's aroma is caramel milk chocolate, strong like in a confection shop.

As already mentioned, the toffee comes in little pieces embedded in the chocolate. It's wonderful toffee, too. While it is, of course, hard, it also has some give and stickiness to it; it isn't the rock solid type. It also comes with a fantastic cooked sugar taste that gives some of that creme brûlée flavor.

The milk chocolate is milk chocolate. I would definitely say it has more of a European than American milk chocolate taste to it. So more cocoa flavor and less of just sugar and milk fat (though it certainly does have sugar and milk fat in it). A hint of richness comes in along with the strong caramel and vanilla flavors--which works well for confection chocolate.

There isn't much more to say. It's pretty straightforward: for toffee fans, this chocolate is a win. It's just what you want from a casual confection.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Young Tolkien

I do love the artist biopics (enough that I don't always allow myself to watch them because they can put me in weird moods if I watch them at the wrong times) and I do love Tolkien. So a movie called Tolkien about Tolkien's life? Why not just go see it opening night with the other dozen people who were there instead of at Avengers? And you know, sometimes you do have to catch these little movies right away otherwise they'll be out of theaters before you've even blinked an eye.

The movie focuses on the young Tolkien, the teenage orphan Tolkien who finds himself in his studies and his school friends and the college age Tolkien who excels at academia despite how his background differs from that of his peers. And Tolkien the young man who falls in love with Edith and who sees all the horrors of WWI. Funny, after the movie ended, I heard someone say how they hadn't been expecting that (they'd been moved by different things in the movie). But what had they been expecting? If you know anything about Tolkien's life, there wasn't really anything surprising in the movie. But I guess not everyone knows about Tolkien's life, hence biopics.

I would say the focus of the movie ended up being Tolkien's love for Edith and his way of dealing with or expressing what he saw in the war--and how both of these things interacted with his studies and writing. The way in which they added a touch of imagery corresponding to his fantasy writings was somewhat reminiscent of how they added the animal character imagery in Miss Potter. Obviously, the two are quite different, but the similarity was in that subtle touch; you don't want to overdue it because the story is about real life, not about the fiction itself. This would be opposed to something like Finding Neverland, where the lines are intentionally blurred more and the fantasy/animation is more pronounced.

It's easy to think of WWI when thinking of Middle-earth. But Tolkien's love for Edith is just as visible in his writing. Edith is everywhere. Most prominently, of course, in Luthien and then Arwen, but also in characters like Melian. I want to keep going and name all of the other female characters, like Galadriel and Varda, but those I think are more expressive of Tolkien's faith--specifically Catholic faith. Figures like Mary and the saints would also seem to be inspiration for many of Tolkien's characters. And yet this was the part that the film did not express.

Sure, it certainly mentioned that Tolkien was Catholic. But mainly the movie shows him at conflict with his guardian over Edith. Which was true. But he was also quite strongly Catholic. So I might have liked to see a little more of that faith in the movie. Not just drunk Tolkien shouting his broken heart on the campus grounds. They showed the hope existent in human relationships (love and friendship) but what about the hope coming from a greater power? Sure, we all know about Aragorn hoping to be with Arwen or Sam helping Frodo. But what about when Sam cries out to Galadriel from the fields of Mordor in what is essentially prayer (that Varda, presumably, answers with rain)?

They did, though, those human relationships nicely. It's tragic to see his schoolfriends that he formed such bonds with meet their young ends in brutal war. And it's . . . emotional to see the way in which he and Edith got through those years apart and then did end up together and happy their whole lives. I love that bit when his friend tells him about, essentially, the beauty of unrequited love. Ah, unrequited love. But it did end up being requited in the end--and that's the lovely part. (Side note: I don't know all the details of what was fact and what wasn't, but they certainly played with the timeline, didn't they? Tolkien was already married before he went to war.)

Main conclusion: it was a good couple hours' time. The journey was nice. But I won't be rushing out to watch the movie again, if I ever do at all. Maybe its best audience really will be people who are entirely unfamiliar with anything from Tolkien's life.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Master & Apprentice

An E.K. Johnston book followed by a Claudia Gray book? Star Wars fans are getting spoiled, eh? Probably everyone's looking forward to the next Thrawn book coming up next, but I tend to like books like these more than the Thrawn ones (though he is a cool character).

Master & Apprentice followed Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan I believe about eight years before Episode I. Obi-Wan is still a teenager, questioning his place in the world, and Qui-Gon is a man questioning his place in his community. As part of that, they question their relationship to each other.

While that relationship is the core part of this book, the plot is nice, too. Instead of the plot being the aside, this plot was entertaining in its own right to follow along with. It shows what the Jedi were up to during typical (or atypical) assignments of "guarding peace in the galaxy." So we have a bit of a political situation, a bit of mystery, and a bit of adventure. Along the way, we also get to explore questions of government versus personal decisions/roles, ethics, and morals. There are some lovely quotes about light and dark, too (I love the light and dark, as you know).

While the plot is a separate piece of its own, it does also help set up future events that we know are coming. We know that in a few years, Qui-Gon will encounter a boy he is convinced is the Chosen One from the prophecies. So this book talks about his attitude toward the prophecies over the years--and Dooku's and Obi-Wan's attitudes, as well. You see the gray area prophecies can create. And within all of the talk about prophecies, dare I say, is a bit of a tease about the sequel trilogy era. Kylo, too, looks at the past, as does Snoke--and they just released that teaser trailer with the Emperor's laugh. So we're all kind of thinking about how the past, present, and future relate. Reminds me of how some people say that Kylo is in fact the Chosen One, not Anakin, because Kylo is made up of equal parts of the dark and light sides of the Force (which is why he's always at war within himself--and it's that tense, unstable breaking point in him that Snoke encourages with the idea that it strengthens him).

Anyway. Back to Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan. As I mentioned, their relationship is the core part of this story. Like Obi-Wan and Anakin, they're not necessarily a perfect match; they clash in many ways. So it took going through many rough spots to form their bond. Without going over all of the details in which this manifested itself, I'll just say that I vastly appreciate a book having such a strong emphasis simply on the relationship between two characters. It's all about the characters for me, after all--and that is the core of Star Wars, as well. And while I like a good love story as much as the next person, I also like other relationships than romantic ones to get their due in the spotlight. Claudia Gray, I might also mention, was the perfect author for this book. She can write out the political situation just as well as she can write out those character relationships. This was one of my favorite Star Wars reads.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Theo: Grapefruit Ginger

When Theo came out with new flavors a couple of years back (or some amount of time like that), the others sounded great. Cinnamon Horchata? Lovely. Root Beer Barrel? Fun. But Grapefruit Ginger? No, no, that one did not appeal to me. So I'd been avoiding it; I figured I didn't need to even try it. But then I thought, why not? Sometimes it helps keep you on your toes to try flavors you don't mesh with as well--and it probably also helps readers to hear me talk about products that I don't like as much. This way you know I'm saying the truth when I do speak well of something. Add to all this that it's also interesting in its own way to talk about a flavor set that you know going in isn't your personal preference.

The same fun yet somehow also slightly muted style decorates the packaging and the usual plain style marks the chocolate inside. Said chocolate smells of dark milk chocolate and grapefruit and just a small hint of ginger. I'm not a citrus chocolate person and I while I don't mind ginger mixed in with other spices (like in chai or gingerbread cookies), I'm not overly fond of ginger on its own. The scents were fine, though, because I was just picking up these different elements and not necessarily tasting them as one combined flavor. That part would come next.

I broke off a piece to let it melt in my mouth. As it began melting, I got the citrus, though it didn't taste specifically like grapefruit to me, just citrus. Then I found a crystal in there, a ginger crystal. I hadn't been expecting the ginger to be in pieces like that. So letting the chocolate melt means that you're left with a piece of ginger in your mouth after the chocolate's gone. They're small pieces, but still--if crystallized ginger isn't your favorite thing (it is pretty strong, after all), then this isn't ideal. Even a small piece can deliver more of a hit than is necessarily desirable to some of us.

So maybe chewing would be better? Yes, definitely. In this way, I tasted the chocolate more and I tasted the grapefruit more later into the bite. Possibly the reason for this last part was that I already had ginger in my mouth so it masked the initial citrus hit--or possibly it was because the citrus takes a second to come (once the chocolate has melted to a certain degree), so that moment just felt like it came later since I'd started tasting the chocolate as soon as I started chewing (that is, before it started melting).

The chewing is definitely my preferred way. I like getting more chocolate flavor and less citrus flavor, and I prefer not to get that hit of just ginger. The chocolate is much as I'd described based on the aroma. It has a 55% cocoa content, so it's darker than milk chocolate but not quite fully dark chocolate, either. I would say that the proportions of all of the flavors seem about right. The fact that I can eat this chocolate is something, I suppose, given that the flavor themselves aren't within my personal preferences. While this chocolate wasn't enough to win me over to citrus chocolate, it gets points for being acceptable and even somewhat pleasant. It does, after all, feel wonderfully light and springy.