Monday, August 13, 2018

I'm Not Looking for Your Gaze

When I was in college, I had a subscription to Vogue. I enjoyed reading the magazine on weekends while eating scones. Then suddenly and without warning my interest went down to zero and I cancelled the subscription.

I began to say that I liked style but had no interest in fashion. I can't even look at most magazines anymore. I don't just not like them; most of them even bother me. I do, however, like the catalogs from Anthropologie. I can't remember who it was, but I saw something recently that called their catalogs a fantasy--this person said that they imagined a faraway, exciting life where everything is perfect and that we like them just because we're trying to imagine ourselves living that false, impossible life. I disagree: I don't travel (at all--and I mind that I don't) (and there are other things that I don't have in common with the images) but I relate to those Anthropologie images more than to any others. That's why I like them, because I see me in them, not because I imagine myself to be someone else when I look at them.

I was looking at an email from Modcloth last week and I realized something. Now, some of their images are similar in style to Anthropologie's. And this email had six pictures in it. Two of the pictures I really liked and two I didn't like much and two I mostly liked. I realized that in the two that I really liked, the models weren't looking at the camera. In the two I didn't like, the models were looking right at the camera. And in the other two pictures, the models were looking mainly at the camera but kind of off center, as if they were just looking in that direction but not quite right at you. And that was it.

I like the images that are about a person and this person's identity, not about being seen.

I don't care about being on trend because I have no personal interest in trends (I'm not saying that there is anything wrong with liking trends if you truly like following them and keeping up to date just for your own interest) and I don't need anyone to see that I'm on trend. In certain contexts, sure, you need to dress to look professional, presentable, authoritative, etc. But I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about just casual days of existence. And I'm not just talking about clothing.

Often (more often nowadays, honestly) I don't even like the outfits in the Anthropologie catalogues. There are plenty of clothing items that I would never wear. But it isn't about that. It's that dreamy quality, of nature images and wood and stone and books. It's that imagining myself going about my day and my interests. I'm looking at me, not imagining someone else looking at me.

I'm past the point of that direct-in-your-gaze look that says, here I am and this is who I am, what are you going to do about it? I have no rebellion in me. I'm too busy standing and being. I'm not trying to prove who I am to anyone; I'm just being who I am.

I don't care if you don't see me, and I don't care if you don't realize who I am. None of that will change the fact of who I am.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Black Butterfly Selection & Cacao Juice

Kind of a mixed review today. Basically I'm just giving an overview of the things that I discovered last time I was at Black Butterfly in Prescott. The fact is, it's too hot right now to be carting chocolate around (unless you genuinely have a cooler in your car), so I would have needed to photograph and review these chocolates right away in order to do things properly. And, well, that isn't usually convenient.

They were just such a wonderful bundle of chocolates, though, that I hate to give no note of them. While I have no pictures, I will say that while Black Butterfly always has such an exquisite, artistic style, everything in the store that day was even more gorgeous than usual. There were so many new things, too, which is why I couldn't resist getting maybe more than I should have. All of the colors and the paint work was all happy and classy at the same time. Gorgeous, gorgeous.

From the case, I chose a Mint Meltaway and a Turtle. The mint was nice and creamy and light and not very strong on mint flavor, which was probably what made it more pleasing to me. The Turtle was one of those beautiful pieces that would make for a great gift--for someone of any age. Content-wise, it was a little closer to standard than I'd been expecting. The caramel, for instance, while certainly of much better flavor, is more of that standard sticky style. Pecans and chocolate are pecans and chocolate. The trio make for a good mix.

One of the exciting new things in the shop are the Snack Bars. Basically they're upscale, candy bars. Clear boxes with long bars of chocolate painted (again) exquisitely. The concept makes them perfect for either eating right away (by yourself or with your group) or giving as a gift. The whole snack bar/candy bar thing also makes them more approachable for those who might be intimidated by a case of truffles. It took me a while to choose two flavors, but I went with the PB& J and Caramel Macchiato. I was trying to go for one more casual and one less casual.

Possibly, though, I didn't choose the best flavors for me. I always bring this up when I talk about peanut butter chocolates, but I'm a bit of a hippie and I only like peanut butter that is made with just peanut and salt--no oil or anything like that. So that peanut butter taste that most people love . . . is a little too much for me. This chocolate leans more to that style and while the strawberry element is good, it's also a tad on the sweet side. I'm going to go, then, with that awkward statement that I think most people (to whom a PB&J bar sounds good) will enjoy this bar but it's a little too sweet and all for my weird tastes (it isn't as though I don't like sweetness--just not all sweetness).

The Caramel Macchiato had little circles of caramel in it, of the same type that the Turtle had. It also had that coffee flavor that was in itself strong but made up a smaller percentage of the overall taste--like with a flavored coffee beverage like a caramel macchiato. It's dark chocolate, but only of 61% cocoa content, so still a sweeter sort of bar here, as would be expected from a line like this.

So, fun new things to try out.

The other fun thing is a new product Black Butterfly is carrying. Cacao Juice made by Repurposed Pod. Can I stress to you how amazing this product is? I'll try.

First of all, I don't think I've really talked much about how great Tracy Taylor of Black Butterfly is. Not only does she make such beautiful chocolate, but she also is welcoming when you come in to the shop. She offers samples and tells you all about the products and how they're made, etc. Though I'd already had my chocolate sample when I came in, when I mentioned how excited I was about the cacao juice (because of course I was going to buy some no matter what), she got me a sample of that, too. So I had my first sip of cacao juice there in her shop.

It's distinctive, certainly. As you can see, it has an off-white color, with a bit of yellow to it, like cream soda or something like that. It smells fruity, almost lemony. The taste, too, I want to describe as lemony, even though that obviously isn't exactly the flavor. Tracy mentioned that it's similar to lychee--and I thought, oh, yes, that's it. That . . . different yet approachable sort of flavor that has some tang to it but also sweetness. And that's what makes it maybe similar to drinking lemonade, after all: it has both a hint of a zing while also being sweet. And yet this is 100% cacao juice with nothing added to it, no sugar, no water, no nothing. So it's kind of amazing how complex the flavor is--but would we expect anything less from a cacao product?

It feels similar, too, to drinking something like coconut water or aloe vera juice. Something that has a super distinctive flavor that is clear and crisp and clean and also strong yet not strong at the same time.

What is cacao juice exactly, though, you ask? Well, you see, the folks at Repurposed Pod thought hey, cacao pulp is a by-product of the chocolate-making process. How would it be if chocolate farmers could get paid for that, too? With the growing efforts to give farmers a livable wage for their work, it's great to think that we can also be using more of their product. So the cacao juice is made from the pulp of the cacao pods after the beans/seeds are removed to make chocolate. They flash-pasteurize it right there and then high-pressure pasteurize it once it gets to the U.S. Each 8.75 ounce bottle takes six pods to make.

And if you're paying attention to things of that sort, this juice is high in magnesium and B vitamins and antioxidants. Cacao is a fruit so why wouldn't it be healthy?

You can add it to smoothies or make cocktails out of it (Repurposed Pod has a great list of cocktail recipes on their website) or whatever creative things you'd like. Myself, though? I think it tastes amazing as is. Granted, I do drink things like aloe vera juice (the 100% kind, not the weird diluted ones) on a daily basis, so you might want to try it yourself first before you order a case of it. I imagine, though, that even if it's the type of thing some people might find odd-tasting at first, it's also the type that your palate will quickly adjust to.

So I could completely see this product taking off as the next big thing. It tastes amazing and it has great potential for health marketing and sustainable marketing and fair trade marketing and coolness marketing. It's pretty much the best thing ever.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A Dozen of Jane

I recently bought a new copy of Jane Eyre. I . . . didn't need a new copy of this book. While it was pretty, it also wasn't my favorite copy of this book I've ever seen. It's just that I can never resist buying all the copies of Jane Eyre.

While, from the standpoint of a literary critic, I will certainly listen to, even in theory agree with, anyone who states that Jane Eyre isn't Charlotte Bronte's best novel or the best novel of the Victorian era or the best of the Bronte Sisters' novels (although it's kind of unfair of us to lump the sisters into one category as if they had no individuality). But the thing is (and I know many people agree with me), Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and maybe even my favorite of all. Jane Eyre is my soul. I reflect back and forth with that book like it's a mirror that I look into or a lesson book written just for me. I started reading it first when I was ten; it was a little too much for me at that age so I picked it up again when I was twelve (I finished it the summer just before I turned thirteen).  Since then, I've read it again every few years. It grows with me and develops with me. It's my soul.

I only ever read the first copy that I bought all those years ago in the children's section at Barnes & Noble; this was the Puffin Classics edition with Jane walking in a billowing purple dress outside of Thornfield. But I also own the Penguin edition, the Barnes & Noble classics hardcover (I'm missing their paperback, am I not?), the Barnes & Noble collectible classics hardcover (they now make this one in a soft cover instead, so I'm glad I bought it when I was still in this nicer version), the pretty Penguin Classics edition that places like Anthropologie loved to sell a couple years ago when they first came out, an old clothbound blue copy that once belonged to a random high school library in Arizona, a dark blue clothbound copy possibly even older than that one, the Knickerbocker Classics edition (which is the one I just bought), the Canterbury Classics edition, Dame Darcy's illustrated edition, the graphic novel version, and the BabyLit version. If you count those last two (which are technically in a different category, that's twelve total.

And I suppose I do also own one of those book journals that uses the sentences of the book (printed in tiny, tiny letters) instead of lines for you to write on. That would make it a baker's dozen.

For a book that's this important to me, I might as well have a little collection going. I mean, it isn't as if there is much book merch out there, even for a book as eternally popular as Jane Eyre. Sure, I have that journal and the t-shirt from Out of Print and especially nowadays with things like Etsy, there are certainly some options out there. But mainly the books are my merch. I can just sit and look at them and consider how they do or don't reflect on the content and tone of the book.

That gray leather-bound is wonderful and Dame Darcy's is pretty cool. But, you know what? I think that perhaps my favorite is still that purple Puffin one. Some of the stylish, trendy copies automatically make this book look all feminine with pink and yellow and flowers and frills because it's a book about a woman written by a woman. And yes, it is certainly a feminine book in many ways. But it's also a dark book--which is why I love it. This purple book captures that duality. Jane is there in her dress but you can also see all the storm clouds around Thornfield and the birds circling the air like a bad omen and the light shining on the trees to represent all the nature elements that are also so prevalent in this book. Yes, this is the cover that made me reach for this book to learn more--all those years ago when I had never heard of Charlotte Bronte or Jane Eyre.

I tell you, it's great when children can grow up already knowing about the classics. But it's also amazing to discover them and fall in love with them entirely on your own. (I mean, I did know about a good many classics [thank you, Wishbone], but Jane Eyre wasn't one of them.)

Monday, August 6, 2018

The Hundred Acre Wood Becomes Narnia

The idea of Christopher Robin sounded much like Hook, right? The adult has outgrown the fantasy of childhood and has to relearn it all in order to reconnect with his children. But if Hook was something that adults in particular could relate to, Christopher Robin is even more so. 

The beginning scenes make for a touching short film in and of themselves. The boy who knows that he's growing up and will soon have other things to replace his childhood play. The boy who becomes the child in grief, the young man who has to handle "so much more than he should." The person who has to go to war and face all of the horrors therein. The man who has to return from the war and approach the new battlefield of the work force to provide for his family. The person who is so tired out from all of this that he can't even take a free moment to remember what joy and happiness are; he's just so busy trying to handle responsibility. 

What makes all of this so touching is that step by step montage. With something like Hook, you have the parent who values their career as if it matters more than their family. You see it often in film (Jungle 2 Jungle is coming to mind, too, for some reason--ah, 90's films). Then they get the reminder that they need to remember that it's their family that should come first. But with Christopher Robin, you know that this character does love and care for his family--it's that love and care that let him come back half sane from the blackness of war and that drives him to spend so much time on work so that he can make things better for his wife and daughter. It's so touching because we've all seen it in real life. People who work full time don't have much time to spend at home--and yet you have to work full time or even overtime to provide for a family. So the film isn't saying that Christopher was in the wrong and needed to learn a lesson; it's saying that life is hard. 

As far as the fantasy world goes, basically this film made the Hundred Acre Wood into Narnia. It's a little different from what you get when you are simply looking at stories of Christopher as a boy. There, this fantasy place is his created world, in a way his practice place for the real world; it is inevitably, by its very nature, the place of childhood that he will leave when he reaches adulthood. Narnia, on the other hand, is the place that you continue to believe in even when you grow up, even if you no longer visit it as an adult. Narnia fans will remember that Peter, Edmund, and Lucy would get together with Professor Kirke, Polly, Eustace, and Jill to talk about Narnia--but Susan, once she grew up, no longer believed in Narnia and considered it simply an old childhood game, nothing of importance. So that's kind of the same thing that this film did with Christopher Robin's Hundred Acre Wood. 

This wood became a place that it was important to still remember and stay in touch with. Robin doesn't just stop visiting Pooh and Piglet and the rest; he also puts away his drawings of them and discourages his daughter from looking at the pictures, instead of telling her about the fun games he used to play as a boy and letting the games live on with her. Because life took away his spark of fun, he isn't feeding that spark to his daughter. 

The Hundred Acre Wood shifted from being a representation of childhood to being the element of play, the element of fun that needs to remain part of life even when you have to add necessary things like responsibility to it. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Theo: Kids' Crunch Banana Milk Chocolate

Apparently Theo doesn't want me to eat this chocolate of theirs: they have labeled this line Kids' Crunch. The flavor I have (against, perhaps, the will of Theo) is the Banana Milk Chocolate. I love for brands like Theo to come out with casual and/or candy chocolate like this--I just don't know that it had to be labeled as for kids in order for that tone to come across.

Sure, though, the name instantly tells you that it's candy and that it's something you can put in your kids' lunch boxes and that it's not just a sweet treat but also an alternative to other products like Hostess Cupcakes or, more specifically, Nestle Crunch bars. You'll notice the "whole grain" bit in the name, too, that tries to say, hey, this is "healthy," too. And like with the Peanut Butter Cup from Unreal, there is puffed quinoa in here in addition to the puffed brown rice. I still don't see the point; I still see this simply as a way to look trendy (which probably works, so much as I might roll my eyes at it it's probably a smart move).

The packaging doesn't really have much of a kids' specific design style, except for the voracious letter "C." The bar itself is very plain, smooth on one side with the crisped rice visible on the other side. It's almost too basic of a look, except that that's kind of the idea. The aroma? Darker milk chocolate, since this is Theo's 45% milk chocolate, which is definitely darker than the average milk chocolate, especially in terms of candy (I see nothing wrong with the syntax of that sentence).

Start nibbling in and you'll get the crisped rice and the banana and the chocolate. Pretty straightforward. The crisped rice and quinoa add the same familiar texture of a Crunch bar.  The bananas are freeze-dried (as opposed to the banana chips in the Black Butterfly toffee), so they do taste like banana. Banana isn't, after all, one of those flavors that you can fake. I always remark on the rarity of banana in chocolate products, but it does seem like it's showing up more often now than it did a few years ago. That must be to please me, right?

I wonder (and kind of hate to wonder) if the 45% milk chocolate might be a little too dark for a bar labeled as being for kids. You never want to put too much past the palates of the young ones, but they do tend to prefer sweeter things. Still, though, this chocolate should be sweet enough--and anyway, I know I won't be the only one to ignore the label. Adults want chocolate candy, too, you know, and many of us will be glad for a more substantial milk chocolate.

The more I ponder the name, the more I imagine that it was just the way they were able to use "Crunch" while not making this sound like a Crunch bar. "Kids' Crunch" makes it sound almost more like a granola bar, while a name like "Chocolate Crunch" would have sounded most definitely like an alternative to a Crunch bar. (Though would that really be such a bad thing? Newman-O's and Trader Joe's O's are all blatant alternatives to Oreos.)

The short of it: I like this product but I don't like that its label says it isn't meant for me.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Unreal: Dark Chocolate Crispy Peanut Butter Cup

Time to give some attention to chocolate candy, starting with an alternative to Reese's Cups. There are plenty of Reese's alternatives these days, most commonly from Theo and Justin's. But I'd never had Unreal's version before.

These also come in bags, though the one I got is just one tiny peanut butter cup in a sole wrapper. And yes, sole wrapper means that, like most of the Reese's alternatives, there is no cupcake style sleeve; it's just the one outside wrapper. While I do like the green color, green means that these are the Crispy ones, which I didn't realize when I bought them. The red are plain dark chocolate and the green are with almond butter instead of peanut butter. Unreal also makes alternative M&M's; those come in milk chocolate as well as dark but the cups only come in dark chocolate.

I did call this peanut butter cup tiny: it's definitely smaller than the standard size. Candy can come in small because candy is cute, so I have no problem with that. The aroma is of dark chocolate. Here I'll note that as part of the "alternate" traits like no artificial ingredients and the use of sustainable and organic ingredients, this chocolate is also fair trade. To me, when it comes to chocolate, that's becoming more important than the rest (usually you don't get fair trade without the rest, but still I feel like, if anything, that should be the priority). I've said it before: of course I want couture fair trade chocolate but I also want there to be casual fair trade chocolate, including fair trade chocolate candy.

The chocolate is sweetened with both sugar and agave nectar, I suppose in an effort to make it "healthier." I wonder if the agave is what makes me lean toward feeling like this chocolate is slightly oily (I kept checking the ingredients to see if some of the palm oil might be in the chocolate instead of just in the peanut butter). I can't say for certain, though, if this is the case or if I'm just making it up. And even if it is, the fact that this is candy means that, well, a tad more of an oily texture is fine.

The chocolate tastes nice, after all, even when I try and nibble some of it on its own from the edges. It isn't that sweet dark chocolate that I hate coming across in the confection territory. It has flavor to it but also is neither bitter nor strongly sweet. The perfect dark chocolate for a candy product.

The peanut butter is the kind you'd expect from an alternate version. I've had this kind before but I don't know when. (I should have just gathered up all of the Reese's alternatives and done a mass review, shouldn't've I?) It's less greasy and more almost crumbly than the peanut butter in a Reese's cup, almost more like Mazapan (the Mexican peanut candy). The salt element (Reese's cups have made a salt element necessary) tastes more like salted chocolate than salty peanut butter.

And the crispy element? Like I said, I didn't even realize when I bought this that there was a crispy element. Instead of using crisped rice, this is crisped quinoa (why make that change I don't know, except to make it sound like part of a health trend). The crisp works as far as crisp goes; the effect is the same. But I have no interest in crispy peanut butter cups; the crisped crisps were just an element I tried to ignore. So if the idea doesn't sound appealing to you, either, I'd recommend just sticking to the non-crispy version.

On the whole, a decent alternative to the famous one. Maybe not my absolute favorite of all of the ones I've tried, but definitely I'd place this one on the successful side (and that can't be said about all of them).

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What's Your Bookstore?

I never felt caught up in the whole "shop indie bookstores thing." I mean, I'm all for local, but I'm also for, well, local that makes sense. For instance, local clothing stores that sell cheap, fast fashion clothing don't make sense to me; I'd rather shop at a chain store and get good quality clothing that'll last me for years. This is a completely irrelevant analogy for bookstores; basically I'm just trying to say that I don't want to say something. I want to do something. I don't want to say, oh, yes, everyone, support your local bookstore when I know I'm just going to buy majority of my books from Barnes & Noble.

I've always liked Barnes & Noble. Back when it was Borders and Barnes & Noble, I preferred the latter because of the earthier, more Old World design versus the modern look of the former. Barnes & Noble has a wide selection, not quite every book on earth, sure, but as many as they can fit on their shelves. They always give good service, too, whether it's just in ringing me up or in helping me find something. If there's a book I want to buy on the day it comes out, I know they'll have it on the day it comes out.

Now people are starting to say, it doesn't matter if it's local or a chain, just support bookstores in general. Isn't that what I was saying all along?

Sure, indie bookstores are great; I'm not debating that. Changing Hands is the famous one in the Phoenix area. But I don't live super close to either of their locations, so quite frankly Barnes & Noble is more convenient for me to go to on a regular basis. Bright Side Bookshop in Flagstaff is cool, too. Places like this you might be able to get more local-centered titles, or even great non-book items like shirts and other merch from Out of Print. Cards and notebooks, too.

But I tend to go to indie bookstores more like I go to cute stores like The Hummingbird House in Sedona (which sells decor, perfume, jewelry, a few antiques, etc.) I go to some used book places, too, sometimes. And I buy a decent amount of books at museums and places like that. I go to Barnes & Noble, as I mentioned, for the bulk of my books, though. New books, like Star Wars books. Classics that I've decided I finally want to read. Books that I discover just from browsing. And chain or no chain, I like shopping there. Because bookstores are great.