Tuesday, May 31, 2016

May Favorites

It's pretty much all food this month because that's what I've been buying and because I'm always extra hungry this time of year. I think it's the change in seasons, the growing heat that increases my appetite. For instance, I just had dinner two hours ago and I'm ready to eat something a little more as soon as I post this.

1) Burt's Bees Lipstick in 511 Magenta Rush - Burt's Bees makes great lip products. They're inexpensive (you know, compared with the other lip products I wear from Tarte, Bite Beauty, and Fresh) and on the more natural side, too. The Tinted Lip Balms are great for when you only want a hint of color, the Lip Shimmers for when you want just a tad more than a hint, and the Lip Crayons for when you want full color. (I haven't tried the Glosses or Shines.) The Lipsticks are new, designed to provide both color and moisturizing--which they most certainly do. The feel is similar to Revlon's Lip Butters that were really popular a few years ago. Soft and smooth, and they don't fade away awkwardly like some lipsticks tend to (they fade more naturally). Magenta Rush is a sort of hot pink color, just the kind I love, bright like a red lipstick but not as dark.

2) Floral & Herbal Ice Cubes - I used to make these with mint and then I just stopped. Use whatever you have around: mint leaves, rose petals, lavender, other flowers, maybe some herbs. Add water or iced tea or lemonade or whatever you like. Then you can put together pretty drinks, whether you're having tea or simply water. Great for just you or for get-togethers.

3) Happ & Stahns 1883 Fleurs de Giverny - The Happ & Stahns Rose Alba (the green one) is one of my favorite perfumes ever, nice and floral. This one has more of a dreamy quality to it--and is also very nice (though the green's still my favorite) and looks wonderful next to my two green bottles. (I do want to eventually get the pink one, too.)

4) Jamaica (Hibiscus) - Usually I think of hibiscus as being the flower and jamaica as being the drink (pronounce the "j" like an "h"--this is Spanish, you know). So I'll just call it jamaica here. Jamaica has kind of an odd taste, bitterly tangy somehow and extremely distinctive. We used to make it unsweetened at home and I didn't particularly like it but I liked drinking it just because it tasted the way it did. There have been times since then that I've really been craving it and the sad thing is, you can't buy it everywhere. Don't buy it already made with sugar and artificial ingredients and carbonation; buy the dried flowers and brew it yourself, even if you add sugar. It's the most delightful, deep purple, greatest tasting drink ever. Refreshing, summery, unique, and addicting. If it tastes odd at first, just have it with lots of sugar and then start decreasing the amount of sweetener until you get used to it; it's worth adjusting to.

5) Hunan Black Tea - Remember how I've been looking for a good quality, loose, preferably bulk tea for sale around where I live? Well, I've seen this one--but I didn't know what Hunan meant, so I never bought it. Then I figured that it's black tea so it was at least worth trying a little. Turns out Hunan is just a region of China where this tea is grown (despite loving tea, I don't know much about it: variety depends on where a tea is grown, among other factors). This tea is rich and fragrant and almost sweet, very nice. It's organic (making it acceptable) but I don't think it said it was fair trade or anything like that (I'll have to look at the label again when I go buy more--they do sell it in bulk, which is why I have to wait until I'm back at the store to see the label). At 90 cents per ounce, it's pretty inexpensive, which is nice. So I've found my new morning tea. Whenever I want tea bags (like for when I travel--which isn't too often), I'll get Equal Exchange's Black Tea.

6) Diced Dried Papaya - At the same store where I got the tea, I sometimes buy these. This store is a local health food store (I can't remember if it has another location in the state or not), so they have quite a lot of bulk items--which is fantastic. These aren't bulk, exactly, but they are packed by the store. I first had them when I was in sixth grade and I just loved them: they are covered in sugar, after all. The fact that they're diced is also, I think, what makes them more appealing. A great snacking item and a replacement for all those fruit gummies that are more like candy than fruit.

7) Dalmatia Plum Spread - I complain about how I can't have strawberry jelly or other sweet things in the morning (unless I've eaten something else first, like an egg), otherwise I feel sick. I happened to get this plum spread because I thought it looked cool. And now I love it. It's unsweetened; it's made with just plums and lemon juice. So it is a bit tart and can take a little getting used to (but tastes divine and elegant with butter). What's so great about it, to me, is that I can eat it in the morning with no problem. And that made me think that I need to take better care of myself. If I know I shouldn't be having sweet things in the morning, I should just leave the strawberry jelly to daytime only--and only have unsweetened jellies if I want something like that. This spread is imported from Croatia, so I probably shouldn't make it a staple (though I do want to buy it sometimes because I really like it). But I need to be looking for other products like this--my local farmer's market is about to start, too, so maybe I'll see what they have there this year.

8) Blue Milk - A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I wanted to find a recipe for Star Wars Blue Milk that doesn't involve food coloring (the one with blue curacao does sound interesting, but I don't want to have to buy a whole bottle of hard alcohol to make a drink that I may or may not like). I finally caved/compromised by buying natural food coloring. And, you know what? The color is just right and I was very much amused, which was entirely the point. So, um, now I can make blue milk along with everyone else during the Star Wars days and when I'm going to watch the movies. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

eatingEVOLVED: Almond Sea Salt

Only on week one of my new posting schedule and already I'm a day late--but I was expecting to be home all day yesterday and then I wasn't, so I haven't gotten around to typing up my notes until tonight.

I feel like I should have known. When a product is too focused on what it doesn't have, well, there is less focus on tending carefully to what it does have. But let me back up and move through my initial impressions through to the final statement.

This bar of Primal Chocolate by eatingEVOLVED (the lowercase and then caps letters should have been a clue, too) out of New York caught my eye because it is sweetened with coconut sugar. Now, when I reviewed the honey-sweetened chocolate from Untamed Confections (you can read that review here), I mentioned that I avoid chocolate sweetened with stevia because, quite simply, I think that's weird. Honey is good, though. And I suppose coconut sugar is alright with me, too, because I bought this chocolate; coconut is a good food, though of course I would hope that it doesn't add much flavor because I'm not too fond of the taste of coconut (which I also just mentioned when reviewing Alter Eco's truffles that are made with coconut oil--you can read that review here).

The packaging has a good look. It has that combination of minimalism with a dash of silliness to keep it from being too sleek and serious (and therefore feeling unapproachable); this simply implies that it's quality. And the monkey, I suppose, is because of the whole evolving from monkeys thing--though if monkeys are in the past, then how can they be a symbol for a "more evolved" food?

The store I was at only had two of their bars, this one and a 100% cacao. While a 100% is great when done well, it's also very hard to do well and when it isn't good, it just feels like a waste and has no use except for going into recipes. So I chose the 72% instead, not realizing that this one is flavored (there is also a non-flavored 72%; it just wasn't available at this store). I noticed later on when looking at the chocolate in my cart and decided that it would be better to try a flavored bar than a 100%, anyway: just because they can't pull off a 100% doesn't mean the rest of their chocolate can't be good. (Do I sound very cynical here?)

On the back of the card box is the statement "Chocolate: it's food, not candy." While I agree that not all chocolate is candy, I'm not sure how I feel about calling it a food. I prefer for it to be a luxury item, something akin to dessert. But if the words just mean to say that the chocolate is good quality, well, then, I'm all on board for that. And the facts (some of them, that is) imply quality. Organic ingredients and fair trade cocoa. All we have in here is the chocolate (with some extra cocoa butter), coconut sugar, almonds, and Himalayan sea salt.

While the design of the bar continues the look of the card box, the surface is fairly scuffed, as if it hadn't been protected by the box at all. I'm used to chocolate looking old by the time it gets to me, but I'm not sure what happened here. Anyways, if you flip the bar over, you find a nicer view: slices of pale almonds scattered around the dark surface.

First taste: it has a bit of a bitter sting to it that reminds me of Bonnat Voiron's chocolate. So it needs that dash of salt to help take the edge away. And this really is a great use of salt in chocolate (which is an overused, often unsatisfactory culinary trend): the Himalayan salt has a lighter taste that fits in better. But that's about all the positivity that I have left to say. I mean, the almonds are sliced nicely, thin enough to give just the right type of crunch.

If this chocolate didn't have the salt and the almonds, however, I doubt I would want to eat it. It's bitter and not in the good sense, the type of bitter that just adds flavor and edge. This is the type of bitter that stings and draws your taste buds into hiding, the kind that feels more like rough texture and therefore disguises the richness and complexity of the chocolate. And, yes, I tried the chocolate at different times and still didn't care for it. Granted, this could just be my preferences: I didn't like the two Bonnat Voiron bars I had several years ago but it seems that other people do like that company. So perhaps this chocolate will appeal to some palates.

Is the difference the sugar, which I have neglected to talk about? It's possible, though I would find that unlikely considering that I do eat (and enjoy) pretty high cocoa content from time to time. Perhaps the coconut adds a bit of a bitter tinge, so it isn't just bitterness from the chocolate that I'm detecting? This is more possible, considering that coconut water usually tastes somewhat bitter to me, too (is it like that for everyone? I know I sometimes have a weird palate). So it is entirely possible that this chocolate will taste completely different to you than it does to me. But I can't exactly recommend it and I won't be buying this brand anymore. To me, there are much better-tasting chocolates on the market and I don't mind if they're sweetened with regular sugar, either.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Where Clouds Are Formed

How can I resist that title? It's a beautiful title for what is also a beautiful book: a poetic cover, purple textured paper on the outer pages, light and curling swirls like clouds to mark the different sections. Oh, yes, and about seventy-five pages of poetry.

Where Clouds Are Formed is a University of Tucson Press publication and Ofelia Zepeda is an editor with the publication and a professor at the university itself. She's also a member of the Tohono O'odham Nation and has done work in preserving and promoting Native American language and literature, including putting together the first grammar textbook of O'odham. Her "About the Author" page is a tad longer than usual, with reason--and for the same reason that I had to mention a little bit about her, even though I usually don't say much (if anything) about authors in these short posts. She just seems like a great person, very intelligent and very wise in what she spends her time on. So if you would want to read poetry from anyone or feel like anyone is entitled to be writing poetry (entitled is a weird word to use in talking about art--but I suppose I specifically mean the type of poetry she is writing), it's her.

Obviously I picked this book up because of the title. And then the first line of "Dirt" drew me in: "Lately I've been craving dirt" (21). Yes. I can't perhaps say that I have achieved this fullness of life, but I know what it is to need the connection to the earth. When I water the garden, I like to watch the dirt change color and I like to see the plants growing almost imperceptibly bigger each day. When I plant new things, I like to feel the dirt on my hands, the seeds in my palm. Simply to read the poems that talk about this type of connection is to gain something special.

But what was intriguing about Zepeda's poetry is her combination of nature and traditional viewpoints with the sense of the modern world. I don't want to simply repeat what the inside of the book jacket says, but this really is the core of her writing in this collection. It's a flawless combination that I can't think of finding anywhere else. Sometimes the modern world appears jarring when set beside nature; in this case it doesn't. Just as a person can learn to take part in both sides, the past and the present, Zepeda brings the two together seamlessly. For instance, in "Dirt" she moves from talking about soil in the garden to the dirt that came out of the adobe walls in the house when they worked on electrical wiring and so on; they're all aspects of life that aren't necessarily always grouped together but in fact do have a connection.

So while I enjoyed the familiar imagery of mesquite trees and summer storms and such, what kept my attention was the perspective with which these poems speak. Zepeda's tone is frank, direct, and simple. Granted, she spends more time describing Native American ceremonies and prayers than I am interested in, but these are her culture. And she has such a wonderful perspective on gratefulness, seasons, and interconnectivity that I really could be applying more to my life. I've been complaining so much lately about the wind, for instance, when I should really be stopping and thinking about what it means for it to be windy for so long; I shouldn't look at anything as just something to complain about. That's petty and unhelpful and, well, not in line with how I want to live my life and how I want to view the world.

I finished this book quickly; it's fairly short. I may have connected more with Clara Emily Guion Aguirre's poetry recently, but I still gained something from Ofelia Zepeda's writing. I want to keep on reading more things like this. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Story of Kullervo

Time for more Tolkien. While some people may find it silly that so many texts can still be published from a deceased author, what they have to realize is that often these are texts previously only available to certain scholars--and the rest of us want the opportunity to study them, too.

The Story of Kullervo, as you may or may not know, is a short text that Tolkien wrote around his early twenties; it's a reworking of a section from the Kalevala, that infamous Finnish text that I hear so much about and yet can't recall ever reading anything from myself. In itself, it's kind of interesting to read. But what is more interesting and what makes it worth reading is the connection to Tolkien's later works, namely of course the story of Turin.

There was a phrase that Verlyn Flieger (who edited this text and also provided commentary) used: "it is a significant step on the winding road from imitation to invention" ("Tolkien, Kalevala, & "The Story of Kullervo" 163). As a writer and a student of literature, that's what was most interesting. When you are young, you do draw more from what's around you as you're realizing what you like and what calls to you and trying to develop the way in which you'll use those influences while also adding in what is unique to you--it takes time to develop from inspiration into creation. When reading this text, a story that is not from Tolkien, it's easy to see what about it compelled Tolkien--because those are the things that he would later work into his own writings.

The actual text is quite short, only about thirty-five pages. I do recommend reading Flieger's Introduction; she does a good job of concisely explaining what the Kalevala is, how Tolkien came to be familiar with it, and whatever else the reader needs to know before going in. I didn't read her notes and commentary for now. There are also two essays by Tolkien; I skimmed those, as well as Flieger's accompanying essay at the back of the book. If I ever want to go back and read in detail, it's all still there--but for now this was enough.

That's about all that I have to say. I appreciate the publication of this text, I enjoyed reading it, and it makes for an interesting study of Tolkien's development as a writer and a creator.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Flying Bird Botanicals: Chokola Tea

(I'm going to try something new where, instead of trying to post every other day, I plan on posting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I was starting to miss days too often the other way, so I'm hoping this will become more regular. We'll see.)

I like tea and I like chocolate and so chocolate teas are always interesting to try--yet they are not always my favorite. Usually there are just too many flavors or it all ends up being too herbal or the chocolate flavor disappears underneath everything else. But I still keep wanting to try them all.

This little tube of tea came from the Desert Botanical Garden's gift shop, and it was positively expensive. Thirteen dollars for six tea bags. I'm used to that price for sixteen to thirty-six tea bags. Granted, it's still probably a bit less than if you went to a cafe and ordered a cup of tea six times--but it's probably the priciest set of tea bags I've come across.

It is organic tea, though, and the cocoa nibs are also fair trade. The tea comes in silken, compostable tea bags, and the tins are made of recycled steel. Flying Bird Botanicals is based out of Washington and I had certainly never heard of them before. They do make some pretty packaging, though, don't they? Nice and neutral colors to balance out the mild frilliness of the birds and flowers. Just a touch of whimsy without looking wacky.

Besides the cocoa nibs, this tea also has roasted chicory root, roasted carob, "spices," and vanilla bean. So more of an infusion than an actual tea. I've had chicory in tea before, but I'm not sure if I've ever had it in a case like this where there are no tea leaves in the mix.

The tea brews into a rich brown color, just slightly reddish. Because I'm sick of trying to take pictures of tea and settling on posting a terrible picture out of obligation, you get no picture of the brewed tea: if it's my blog and I don't want to take a picture of the brewed tea, then I guess I don't have to. Just use your imagination (honestly, it wasn't a very exciting sight, so you're not missing out on much).

It tastes wonderful, warm and fragrant. If this tea were a cookie, it would be a molasses crinkle (which are fairly similar to gingerbread cookies); it has that taste of molasses and ginger even though it has neither molasses nor ginger (well, it might have ginger--it does have undisclosed "spices"). Does it taste like chocolate? Well, maybe a little. I've come to expect that, unless chocolate is the only flavor added, chocolate teas just don't taste that much like chocolate. Oh, yes, and it doesn't taste much like chicory, either, which is a good thing because chicory can get a little strong; I think the chicory is just there to add something to the feel of the flavor rather than to expressly add a chicory flavor.

What's nice about this tea is that it isn't quite a dessert tea--but still could be. It has more the idea of sweetness without actually being sweet, which I find rather nice.

Now, the packaging suggests adding milk and honey. I tried it with some soy (I usually drink almond but happened to have soy in the house, so I added that since the flavor of soy tends to mix into drinks better than that of almond, though I otherwise prefer almond). It mellows out the flavor into something creamier and less rich, something for a cuddly, sleepy-time moment--something less striking.

The next time, I added both soy and honey, and this was too much for me (granted, I may have added just a tad too much honey: there's only one tea I drink with honey and that one's quite strong so it actually needs lots of honey). In this situation, you're primarily tasting the honey with the warmth of whatever spices are in the tea. It's nice, but in general I find that it covers the flavor just a little too much. Perhaps with just honey and no milk might be better. You decide what works best for you. Obviously, I think I'm most partial to drinking it plain, or with a splash of milk.

After all of that, I'm almost done with all six tea bags. Kind of a shame but also kind of a good thing: this is the type of tea that you want to keep special, otherwise you get tired of its flavor. It was fun to try but nothing that I would buy regularly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The End of the Hobbit Books

That's right, this is the sixth and last book in the Hobbit: Chronicles series by Weta (this one is subtitled The Battle of the Five Armies: The Art of War)It's been a long journey and I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm kind of glad it's over: they're very interesting books but it's also quite a lot of content to go through and it does get a little exhausting. (I admit that I also started reading it later than I otherwise would have because I was too busy thinking about Star Wars to get back into The Hobbit quite yet.)

Add to that the fact that much of this book (I think more than with the others, though I could be mistaken) involved white text printed on a black background. That may seem like a petty detail to you, but white text is much harder on my eyes--especially when reading at night by lamps and such, which is usually how I've been reading books lately. So that's one of the reasons why this book took me so long to get through. I would pick it up, excited to read it, and then set it down two pages later because my eyes just couldn't take it. So. Enough of that.

At 250 pages full of images and commentary, well, it was also a good thing to take my time just to be able to absorb it all. We had some of the usual things in here, like concept art of costumes and armor. But there was also a lot that was a little new to hear about in such detail. Terry Notary, Movement Coach on the film, gave lots of commentary both about who different characters/species moved and about choreographing certain scenes. And given that the last movie was basically just the battle, there was much about the layout of the battle, the geography of it, and all that. Kind of amazing how much they had to block out and plan. The fold-out battle map at the back of the book was helpful in visualizing both what they're talking about and what's going on in the movie.

I guess that's about it. This last book is a bit of a monster to read through but just as informative and interesting as the rest. (Side note: there were a few typos in here, which seemed like a bit much for a book like this, even though typos are pretty normal for any first edition book.) It completes my collection, and I don't know of any other movie books that are so detailed as this set. (Just as I don't know of any movie features that are as comprehensive and detailed as those for the extended editions of TLOTR.)

Oh, yes, and one last mention for the cover. You can't tell without having it physically in front of you, but the cover is pretty amazing. It has a layer in it that looks like ice, with Azog breaking through the ice just as he does in the film; it's really quite a cool effect, even though it feels odd and terrifying to be reading a book with Agog on the cover.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Writing Adventures: Part 7

Click here for Part 6.

A quick and short update for this month.

The Book

There is little more to say this month. I've been working on publishing, and there isn't really too much more to do. I'm settling in on a cover I like, and finally editing together my final version of the book summary (I shared last time how difficult it has been for me to write the summary). So I've been using Lulu's Cover Designer, getting to know how that works. (Yes, I'm publishing through Lulu, which I might as well mention since you'll find out soon, anyway. There are advantages and disadvantages to all the different self-publishing companies, but I liked a lot of the things about Lulu and things have gone well with them so far.)

Once I've finished putting together everything, I will have to wait a few weeks to get my copy of the book in the mail so that I can approve it, make sure that everything printed right. So what I had been imagining as more of a spring release will be a summer release instead. I by no means have a release date for you (this is all new territory for me and, of course, sometimes you just don't know how long certain steps will take). But the time is definitely getting closer. I'll do a title and cover reveal with the summary once everything is all settled in.

The Manuscript

I just glanced at the manuscript for my next book. I've been writing it out on paper and then typing it up afterwards so that I have a way of tracking what I have so far. And I was somewhat surprised (since I haven't looked at it in a while) that it's already almost fifty pages. And I was also surprised that I like it. I want to do some things with it that I didn't do in the first book, while also maintaining some of the same feel (that is, what I want to be known for as a writer). Because, after all, I'd like for all my books to be able to offer something a little different from one another, for there to be something different that they each achieve or provide. That way I will feel like I have a body of work rather than simply a certain number of books.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Star Wars: Bloodline--The Secret's Out

I suppose it doesn't give anything away to say that this book involves the galaxy-wide reveal of a certain secret. The cover of the book, if nothing else, pretty much explains that. And I think everyone who would care has either read the book themselves or at least heard that much about it.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray takes place six years before Episode VII, which was enough to make me quite excited for it: I thought that it must help to explain the answers to some of the questions we've all been theorizing about. In reality, though, the answers that it gives aren't exactly the ones I was seeking--they're more about the political scene. Given how much I enjoyed the drama (as in, the characters and the relationships between characters) of Claudia Gray's Lost Stars last year, a book heavy on galactic politics wasn't exactly what I'd been expecting from Bloodline.

The book centers around Leia and her work in the Senate (it is good to see the work that Leia does); she's trying to work through the Senate's issues while also investigating a new possible threat (the reader is quick to realize, of course, that this threat is the First Order beginning to form) and trying to recover from the galaxy finding out the secret of her parentage. It's interesting--as long as you don't go in expecting to learn more about other questions, like how Ben reacted to all this and at what point he joined with the First Order and why exactly.

For me, the most interesting thing to note from this book was that Ben still, at this point, didn't know (unless he'd found out on his own and hadn't told anyone, which I doubt) who his grandfather was. What? Leia, you didn't tell him? No wonder he flipped. You can't just try and hide something like that, you have to tell it to them from when they're young so that they take it as a part of history, a fact rather than a tragedy. Maybe it would've been easier for him to make peace with the truth if he had always known about it, if his family had always told him what it did/didn't mean for his own life. So he's about 24 when he finds out. And apparently, he hadn't been flirting with the Dark Side or anything before this point (Leia's brief mentions of her son contain no concern about this). So it may have been a big and sudden explosion.

Let me (halfway) get back to the content of the book. It might just be me, but I felt like I could see many aspects of Episode VII in there, even though we were following a fairly unrelated plot (the politics of it are related, of course). Namely, Leia's relationship with Ransolm Casterfo. He is someone that she develops a friendship with, someone who betrays her (in his attempt to tell the truth, or otherwise do what he thinks is right at the moment), someone who later tries to do the right thing by supporting her, someone who must face the consequences of his actions in the end, and someone that she decides to forgive. Sound like Ben to anyone else? Leia's son, who betrays her by joining the First Order, who might try to right his wrongs, who will face consequences even if he does, and who Leia will always be able to forgive because she loves him. I kind of wonder if Ransolm wasn't a subtle bit of foreshadowing. It would make sense because he, too, doesn't think at first that he is doing anything wrong--he thinks his aims are good and they basically are; he just goes about things in the wrong way sometimes and when he finally realizes it, he can't escape. "It's too late."

Yes, I know, I hardly stayed on topic, but that's why I don't consider my posts on books reviews. (Book reviews I usually consider boring, anyway; book reactions are better.) I did enjoy Bloodline, just not as much as I'd hoped I would. And as far as it not answering as many questions as I'd hoped, well, that's probably a good thing: the less we know, the longer we'll be able to keep having fun speculating.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Alter Eco: Velvet Truffle

Alter Eco is pretty smart with their truffles. Basically, they're the organic, fair trade version of Lindor truffles. Small, round, and individually-wrapped, they come in four flavors: Black (dark chocolate), Velvet (dark milk chocolate), Salted Caramel, and Sea Salt. I'm pretty sure I usually only see the first two for sale, though. The Black Truffles are in purple wrappers and the Velvet are in blue.

What is so convenient and enticing about these truffles is that stores will sell them individually (as sometimes the Lindor truffles are sold and sometimes Ghirardelli squares). So while you're out grocery shopping, you can just pick up one or two to have on your way home. It seems like such a simple thing, but this is a need that should be filled: small, quality, everyday treats are important options to have. It keeps you from wanting too many sweets and it keeps you from stopping somewhere else for KitKats or Entenmann's (I say somewhere else because, of course, it's Whole Foods, not Safeway or other grocery stores, that sells these truffles).

So. I appreciate the concept from Alter Eco. Good chocolate bars can be a great value because they can last a while, but little chocolates have their place, too.

I forget which of the two I prefer; I think sometimes I get one and sometimes the other. Today I'm going over the blue-wrapped Velvet Truffle (I may or may not do a separate review at some later point of the Black Truffle because, frankly, they're quite similar).

Each truffle is a round piece made of two halves put together; the seam runs around the circumference. If you cut open the globe, you'll find light lines outlining the shell that holds in a soft center barely distinguishable from the shell. In texture, you will indeed find yourself thinking of the Lindor truffles: these have that same cool and creamy meltiness. The inside vanishes so quickly, lightly, and sweetly--and then the shell follows soon after.

You wonder, for a second, if it's pretty much the same thing as a Lindor truffle. But, no, it's different--in a way that you can't quite place. Something besides just the chocolate.

The difference is the oil.

I know. I said oil. Oil generally isn't something you want to find in chocolate. But in order to have chocolates with a shelf life of longer than two weeks, well, they have to have some kind of oil. What Alter Eco has done, though, is clever. They've used coconut oil. Don't worry about getting an extra coconut flavor thrown in there: I'm not overly fond of the taste of coconut but it was a while before I realized that that's what's in these truffles. What the coconut oil does is keep the ingredients of good quality and help provide a very particular sort of texture.

Everyone is familiar with coconut oil by now, right, thanks to this latest coconut oil craze? So you know about how it's solid at room temperature but turns liquid if it's even just a tiny bit warmer? I'm not a chemist (this is why I have no interest anymore in making chocolate: it's too technical), but I would imagine that the type of oil you use does influence the final texture. So. I approve of the coconut oil--I think it's a great mix. (I've also seen recipes for making "chocolate" at home with coconut oil and cocoa powder, so I suppose it makes sense since everyone with those recipes seems so excited about them.)

Oh, yes, and you may have been wondering about the sweetness level, since this is the milk chocolate version of the truffle. Not too overly sweet--but sweet enough. Looks like there is a lot of extra cocoa butter added, so I'm not entirely sure why it's called "dark milk chocolate" (which I generally consider milk chocolate in the 45% cocoa content range that's just starting to get some of the depth and richness of dark chocolate). It's just milk chocolate--not too complicated in flavor. Fairly straightforward, in fact. So if you want more depth, maybe go with the Black Truffle instead. Milk chocolate lovers, though, you won't be disappointed by the Velvet Truffle.

Friday, May 6, 2016

On the Timeless Nature of Despondency

Some days it is difficult to focus. Some days everything you do or have done seems wrong, or not good enough. Some days all of your actions, past and possible, flutter before your eyelids into a hopeless phantasmagoria.

Some days you just feel down, for no real reason--though you do make up reasons to feel down since you are already down.

And time becomes something strange. It slows down into something soft and mushy, weakening your will, tiring your body, and blurring your thoughts. The day passes. You either get little done or feel like you have done little. Either way, you feel like it doesn't matter and you felt like it didn't matter while you were doing it, so time no longer meant action and achievement. It meant inadequacy.

Somewhere in your head, you know that it isn't so. You know what you have done and what you can do. You know that you believe in good things, that you are not a melancholic sloth. But that doesn't really help because you also know that you're stuck in a little moment of slowness. Your mind just isn't working the way it should--and you know it isn't right but you also know that it will pass.

Tea and chips and chocolate and blankets and, when the time comes, a dose of YouTube all help--in nothing more than helping the moment to pass. But that is enough. Just let the moment pass, let it come and go so that you can move on tomorrow. Because you know that you are not this mood and you don't want it to stay for more than just a moment, its awful, timeless moment of muddiness.

Today was cold and windy--can you tell? I want the sun back.

Here is a completely irrelevant picture of a two and a half month old Zebra named Valentine (at Out of Africa Wildlife Park, of course) to cheer us up:

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What Do You Celebrate? May the Fourth Edition

Silly it seems to include today in this holidays series? Amusing I find it.

And, you know, after all, there are some celebrations that feel more like celebrations, more like holidays than the expected ones. So because this is my series, I'm throwing Star Wars Day in just because I feel like it. Because I think it fits well enough. And it's a holiday that makes more sense to me than Valentine's Day does.

I'm recalling the day, in first grade, when we celebrated Mickey Mouse's birthday. All we did was learn how to draw Mickey's face, but it was fun and it felt special. A day to celebrate something we all loved. May the Fourth is kind of like that. It isn't really that serious and a lot of people might not really do too much for it, but it's nice just knowing that it's there, just saying that you're doing this or that to celebrate.

Celebration, of course, begins with the phrase of the day: "May the Fourth Be With You." Say it and say it often, in person, by text, on social media, however and whenever. It's funny and it gives the illusion that this day always belonged to Star Wars, that the connection is inherently there in the date.

Other than repeating this phrase, I haven't done much for Star Wars Day in the past. I know some people have parties, eat Star Wars food, watch the movies, dress up, go to events. But I don't really do any of that--at least I haven't yet. This year I'm trying to do a little more: since I'm just doing work at home today, I have my Darth Vader dress from Her Universe on. I'll have to take a picture to send to some family in California who also love Star Wars.

I don't think I'll be watching Episode VII tonight because I just watched it again on Saturday. I may or may not watch a different movie or TV episode--even though it could be a tradition, I don't feel obligated to yet since I haven't made it a tradition yet. I might turn on the soundtrack, though.

I do want to get into some of this Star Wars food. I just want to discover something that's a little more me. But I want a blue milk recipe that doesn't involve food coloring, fruit punch mix, or alcohol--blueberries would probably work, I guess, but how do you get the color without the texture? And while recipes for that ration bread that Rey has sounded like a great idea, I was completely disappointed to find that you just microwave a couple of ingredients (I avoid microwaves). Other recipes are more about decorating things, whether cookies or cupcakes or pretzel sticks or whatever else. So I either need to look harder or come up with something on my own.

I've covered some of the how but what about the why? Why celebrate this day and why even call it a holiday? And what, as a holiday, does it mean?

It's just about people getting together and expressing their love of the same franchise/fandom, the same set of stories. They're just fiction and fiction is entertaining--but sometimes fiction is also a big part of our lives. It does influence how we think about things. Landscapes become familiar, actions seem attainable, messages and morals enter into our subconscious. Certain lines stick in our heads and then remind us of different things. "You have failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me." A reminder to never bend, because the result of bending would be far worse than the result of resisting. A reminder of the ties that bind family, even in the face of . . . difficulties. All good material. There's a lot of good material of this kind in Star Wars, and Star Wars Day also lets us celebrate that material.

"Show me the way of the Dark Side, grandfather."

When we put on a Darth Vader outfit or make chocolates in the shape of Yoda's head or pour blue milk for our family, we're setting out little emblems to remember the themes that compel us. The redemption of Darth Vader, the wise advice of Yoda, the nurturing actions of Beru.

May the Fourth Be With You.