Friday, May 26, 2017

Alter Eco: Dark Salted Almonds

I'm returning this week with another flavored chocolate from Alter Eco; I always seem to buy Alter Eco bars in pairs now. And I find that, while I'm sometimes hesitant about buying flavored chocolate, I am enjoying Alter Eco's flavored bars. (Part of the reason for my hesitation may be that I know I can only save the plain chocolates to use in brownies and flourless chocolate cake, and I do like to always be ready to make either of the two recipes.)

The Dark Salted Almonds bar contains the same 70% cocoa dark chocolate as last week's Dark Salted Burnt Caramel had. This time the added ingredients are exactly what you would expect: small pieces of roasted almonds and some sea salt. The almonds are pretty visible from the back of the bar and even somewhat from the front. Here I do have to apologize for the ugly face of the chocolate; that was my fault. (Story time: I was out of town for a couple of days, so I left the air conditioning off, and this chocolate was in the cabinet, so of course it got warmer than it should have.)

There are quite a few almonds in here, probably more than I would have expected--and I'm glad. While small, the pieces aren't tiny; they're big enough that you can get the texture of that specific almond crunch. You can taste the salt fairly strongly, as well, which of course goes well with the almonds. In fact, the salt plus the plentitude of almonds makes this chocolate a little reminiscent of a peanut butter cup. That's definitely a nice effect.

Of course, at 70%, this chocolate is darker than what you'll find in most peanut butter cups (even the dark chocolate ones are usually lighter, often significantly so depending on the brand). It can even taste somewhat unsweet at first--or at least that's how I generally feel when chewing on dark chocolate versus letting it melt. But once I moved on to the second piece, I had adjusted and the chocolate became a nice and consistent base element for the almonds and salt. Those took more of my specific attention.

Once again, this was a pretty nice bar. It's good for snacking and munching. I want to call it something you could bring on a hike (almonds just make me think of hiking, I guess). Depending on the type of foods you buy, this can even be a replacement candy bar chocolate since it is reminiscent of peanut butter cups. Note that I use the word reminiscent loosely: it all depends what your taste buds are accustomed to. If you buy a lot of processed food and food with artificial ingredients, this probably won't remind you of peanut butter cups (not to say that you won't enjoy it--it'll just have a different effect). But if you're more into whole foods, this'll be a great indulgence.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Memorial Day Book Sale

I'm starting this weekend's Memorial Day Sale early. You can now get paperback and hardcover editions of my novel, Black Tree, for 30% off at this link. It's a good time to start stocking up on summer reading.

The sale will continue through Monday. If you're still undecided, you can read the first chapter before you buy the whole book by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Night-Blooming Cereus

Have you heard of the night-blooming cereus? It is a stick plant. A long gray-brown stick with a hint of purple to it sticks up and grows more stick branches--kind of like a short tree. It looks bare and sculptural, except that there are tiny white dots with short spikes on them. They're the type of spikes that will give you more of a scrape if you brush against them, versus the type of damage you'll get from the usual cactus needles.

Not the typical type of beauty, I realize, yet I find this plant absolutely wonderful to look at. The shapes it makes. I don't normally like much modern art, but I strangely do like a lot of plants that remind me of modern art.

There does come, however, a time in which everyone will be able to see beauty in this plant. The name says it all. This pointy stick plant (which can grow to about six feet, but mine is maybe four to four and a half feet) grows magical flowers that each bloom for a single night. Like how each flower on a saguaro only lasts for a day.

I've been watching for a while as little stubs started growing from my stick plant (I got it this March at the Desert Botanical Garden's Spring Plant Sale, by the way). The first one became a long stick of its own, longer than any of my fingers. While the rest of the plant grows in a sort of square shape, this part was rounded (you can see the contrast in the above picture). A blossom appeared. And then I walked by it on Thursday between 5:00 and 5:30 and a white blossom shocked me with its brilliance, its magical appearance. It floated like a cloud, soft above this spiky stick plant.

I was obsessed for the rest of the evening with checking back on the flower's progress. I took this second picture maybe around an hour later, when the petals were starting to open up. 

As the light faded, the flower emerged, like a nighttime fairy, like a secret for only those who knew to look (and when). 

By the time night set in, the outer petals stood out flat and straight, while the center of the flower stood straight up. This isn't a particularly scented flower: if I went right up to it, I did get a powdery honey scent, but it was faint. However, the flower remains completely gorgeous. 

That night was quite windy, so I couldn't get a non-blurry picture that showed both the flower and a little of the plant. If I had set up my camera on the tripod and then held the plant still, that probably would have helped, but I didn't really think about doing that until afterward. 

This flower is a moment to savor: by morning the petals were already closing up and by the end of the day it became a closed bud again, left to wilt and never again to bloom. This is the magic of the night-blooming cereus, the plant with the secret flowers of such beauty that they can only last for a single night. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

Guardians of the Whills

Sometimes I wonder if I'm enjoying the Star Wars books that are written for younger audiences more than the adult books.

Such isn't really true: it's all on a case by case basis. But it is true that some of the adult books lean more toward details of politics and science and battles, such things as I am less interested in. And because the children's/YA books are intentionally kept simpler to be friendly for younger readers, that means that they sometimes get quicker to the heart of the matter. The characters and the drama, that is. And that's what I keep returning to Star Wars for.

Rogue One set up a fantastic group of characters. I remember having little to no interest in any of them from that first group photo that they released. But when the movie came and I met them all and I saw what happened to them all, I felt like I knew who they were and I was both sad and glad for them. All of them. It was a great group.

Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka tells a story about Baze and Chirrut before the events of the movie. I think it's aimed at around the ten to twelve age group--or at least that's my guess. But that really don't matter. It's a little awkward to walk into the children's section of a bookstore, perhaps, but I don't consider this book limited to only one age group--this just means that it's accessible to younger readers. Greg Rucka also wrote a couple of the Journey to the Force Awakens books, which were similarly packaged for younger readers but also of interest to Star Wars readers in general (Guardians also has a few illustrations in the same grayscale-with-red style as those books had).

So this book is exactly what anyone who enjoyed Rogue One would want to read. It doesn't tell the story of how Baze and Chirrut met or started working together. In fact, it gives more backstory to Jedha than to them. And Saw Gerrera may have a hand in it all (which I didn't know until I started reading since I hadn't even read the book summary). At about 230 short pages, it's a quick read for adults. At the beginning of each chapter is a quote from a supposed collection of writings on the Force, which is a nice touch.

In fact, it feel like this book has more contemplations on the Force than any of the previous books I've read. Chirrut looks at the Force in a completely different way than Luke does, for instance. Because of this, Chirrut and Baze and Jedha are wonderful additions to the Stars Wars universe. This book may be short with a concise plot, yet it contains substance (and, you know, a second look at a couple of good characters). So it's as much worth picking up as any of the adult books--or perhaps more so.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Alter Eco: Dark Salted Burnt Caramel

After enjoying the caramel truffle from Stone Grindz so much last week, I had to pursue more caramel with this Dark Salted Burnt Caramel bar from Alter Eco. Caramel, however, can mean many things, and this chocolate bar was completely distinct and separate.

Once you unwrap the bar from the earthy orange card box and the silver foil, a wonderfully sweet and smooth caramel aroma emergences. It's reminiscent of the inside of a Lindor truffle--that same butteriness, just in smell instead of flavor.

This chocolate has, as you can see, a standard 70% cocoa content, Ecuadorian in origin. The salt inside is specifically Fleur de Sel de Guerande. And it looks like the caramel is made with butter and cream, among other ingredients. You can see dots of the caramel on the front of the ten square bar, though not really on the back. And yes, in case you missed the "deep salty crunch" description in small lettering on the label, this caramel is indeed crunchy, almost more like toffee. Not the same texture as toffee, but more like that than like the usual sticky caramels. This is what they mean by "burnt" caramel.

The first flavor to emerge is a little darkness from the chocolate; this isn't quite a bitter flavor, yet it is darker than what you might expect from a caramel chocolate. Then you start crunching into the little pieces of caramel and you taste the salt along with a mild buttery flavor. The effect of all the flavors isn't very sweet, and the salt is stronger than I'd expected.

So I did find that I had to readjust my expectations. I had to get used to the idea of a toasted, salted caramel. This is deep chocolate, as well. And while I say that there was more salt than I'd been expecting, I don't mean that as a complaint. Lately I've been coming across salted chocolate that doesn't have enough salt, so this bar came with a welcome balance of salty flavor. It's still just one flavor note in there, nothing to overtake everything else--yet there is enough of it. Just the right amount.

Now, while there are enough caramel pieces in the chocolate that you do get some with every bite and they do add a butteriness to the flavor, you can't expect them to affect the taste in the same way that a traditional caramel would. This is just a different experience. The chocolate provides a serious base and the caramel pieces add sweetness and a kind of milkiness--and the salt links the two together. I did need to get used to the effect at first, but once I did, I found this chocolate irresistible.

It's a unique chocolate--and yet one that doesn't feel odd or strange. The elements all feel familiar; they just come together in a singular way. The only other chocolate I can think of that was similar was Theo's Bread and Chocolate bar, which had salt in it and little pieces of crisped bread (instead of the toasted caramel here). Though it's been enough years since I had that one that I can't say how specifically similar these two bars are, I do remember loving Theo's Bread and Chocolate bar.

I'm also hooked on this Dark Salted Burnt Caramel. The caramel pieces mean it's a chocolate bar to munch through and chew (rather than letting each piece slowly melt), and both the salt and the caramel keep your taste buds asking for more.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Rasselas and Helen Burns

It seems to me that there would be little point in writing a general reaction to The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia by Samuel Johnson like I usually do for books. It's the type of book you write papers on rather than talking about what it was like to read it (I found it depressing to read). So I'm going to do something different: I'll be talking about this book in the context of Jane Eyre.

When Jane is at Lowood School, you'll remember that the first time she spoke to her friend Helen Burns was to ask about the book Helen was reading. Jane thought that the title of Rasselas sounded interesting--she thought it sounded like fantasy and then was disappointed to find that it was nothing of the sort. Helen, when Jane asks her if the book is interesting, simply replies, "'I like it.'" Rasselas did always sound like such an exotic and unique name that I could never quite believe it belonged to a dry, philosophical book.

It does--Rasselas is much more philosophical exploration than novel. I know Samuel Johnson's name more from Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford than from my own studies (I always had more of a nineteenth century focus and Johnson is eighteenth century). Rasselas is from 1759. It centers on a prince, Rasselas, who escapes out of a sheltered "perfect" valley in order to explore the world and see what it is really like with all of its hardships and to find out how true happiness can be attained. The answer: it can't but the soul is something real that will go on after the body has died.

Does that sound about right for something Helen Burns would be reading?

I've been glancing back at Helen's passages in Jane Eyre. I had always thought that Helen's gift to Jane was her faith. It is, but it's more than that--or rather, along with faith came other traits. Helen taught Jane patience (or at least, the awareness that sometimes all you have to do is wait through certain periods in your life) and long-suffering (Jane as a child, naturally, wanted to be happy, but she learns that life means more than happiness, which is in itself not the most significant thing). Helen taught Jane that you strive through life to do the best with your situation and to treat others (and view others) as best you can (even despite how they may treat you)--you don't do this because it'll make you happy and well-fed and rich. You do it because it's right and it's pleasing to God.

And then you die. Helen also took away Jane's innocence because she introduced Jane directly to death. Helen was Jane's first great loss. Her first friend and her first death. And yet Helen died telling Jane, it's alright, I'll be with God, it isn't a painful death, it's fine. That image would forever affect how Jane would see death.

This, of course, brings us back to Rasselas. Rasselas and his sister, Nekayah, talk to different people that they encounter, trying to see who is happiest and which way of living will bring about the most happiness. They're like children, like Jane, thinking that "happiness" is of the most importance. Then they realize (like in The Pursuit of Happyness) that happiness is something that people pursue in life but don't achieve because we always want what we don't have or always think that things can be better. And in realizing this, they realize all of these other things about life and how the mind works. And they, like Helen, come back to the issue of mortality.

They're in the catacombs looking at all the dead bodies and they have a whole conversation about the idea of a soul (concluding that it can't be physical because that which is physical decays, and a soul is that which does not decay). I could completely picture Helen reading all of this. At the end of the second to last chapter, Rasselas says that, "'Those that lie here stretched before us, the wise and the powerful of ancient times, warn us to remember the shortness of our present state: they were, perhaps, snatched away while they were busy, like us, in the choice of life.'" His sister replies that to her, "'the choice of life is become less important; I hope hereafter to think only on the choice of eternity.'" That's Helen. Her life is all unhappiness and there is nothing she can do to change that. So she's learned to turn her mind toward another focus.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised by how well this book fits with Helen's character. It's not as if Charlotte would have just chosen any random book for Helen to be reading; of course she would choose one that would make sense and even add something to the story. So while Rasselas remains more of a book to read for study than for leisure, if you do find yourself reading it, considering Helen Burns will give an interesting filter for your reading.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Once Upon a Time Finale

After six seasons and an overdue season renewal announcement, I was expecting yesterday's season finale to be the end of Once Upon a Time. The show has, after all, needed to get on its feet again and find new ground each and every season, so it did feel like trying to keep it going longer would be stretching things too thin. In fact, I expected to be disappointed if I learned that there would be another season.

And then along came the finale episode and the announcement that there will be a new season but with a "soft reboot."

Here I'll begin talking about last night's episode, so don't keep reading if you haven't watched it yet.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Stone Grindz: Truffles

After my recent experiences with Stone Grindz Chocolate, I was excited to hear that they were experimenting with truffles. As this is still an early stage, I'm also not considering today's review a review in the usual sense.

These truffles were nine dollars for a clear bag containing six truffles. That's $1.50 per truffle, which is about average or a little less than average; I would say the average price of a truffle is about $2 or $2.50, but these truffles are also a little smaller than average.

The style is simple and sleek. The round shapes (small half domes and short cylinders) are Dark Chocolate Ganache and the squares (these also came in rectangles) are Sea Salt Bourbon Caramel. Beautiful shapes and the chocolate looks healthy. There is some imperfection to the squares, with some chocolate spilling from the edges. Not much, just something to practice getting perfect.

I was admiring these truffles so much in the bag that I had perhaps forgotten they were more than just a visual item: I was pleasantly surprised at the wonderfully rich and elegant chocolate smell that came to greet me when I finally opened the bag. This shouldn't really be surprising, though: I had plenty of positive comments for Stone Grindz's plain chocolate bars.

Starting in on one of the plain truffles, you can see that it is a little uneven. One edge is thicker than the other, and the bottom is perhaps thicker than it should be, as well. (I do often have this comment about truffles in general.) Still, these details mattered little or not at all as far as taste.

This is a rich, good chocolate with warm flavor. The ganache adds sweetness to it all and some creaminess; its flavors are still based on those of the chocolate. This isn't a really dark, deep, bitter chocolate experience; it's just dark in the approachable sense, something nice and rich. Likewise, I can't exactly call it sweet yet neither is it unsweet. This is a solid ganache truffle; I would buy it again.

Now on to the next one. The caramel is free-flowing, which I normally wouldn't try to cut open to photograph because that usually just makes a mess. But I did abuse this truffle just to get a picture of the color and consistency of the caramel. As you can see, it has a sort of dark orange tone and it is definitely free-flowing.

I always seem to hesitate around caramel in this type of setting. I like caramel; I just think of it as working more in a confectionery sense, with desserts and ice cream and such. I always think that it won't be good enough for a truffle setting. But I tasted a touch of this caramel that had spilled out, and it was wonderful. It captured me right away.

I should here note that I had forgotten the exact flavor of the caramel while I was tasting it; it wasn't until later that I went back and saw that it was sea salt bourbon caramel.

So here is what I found in the flavor without realizing all that. I found just the right amount of light sweetness and a honey taste, completely with its own richness, just a bit of vanilla, and some of the expected "caramel" flavor. And also the right bit of stickiness to the texture. Biting in, I tasted chocolate and cream and vanilla. The chocolate felt darker and plainer than in the ganache, which made a good match for the caramel here. I wasn't finding the regular caramel flavor here; instead, I found an amazing flavor experience that I only wanted more of.

It's the bourbon, of course, that gives the richness I detected. It really does elevate the flavors in just the right way to make this truffle fresh and exciting. While I certainly enjoyed both truffles, I did find myself liking the Caramel one more simply because it was unique. I've had good plain truffles before (though I don't want to make light of that fact because I do appreciate finding more) but I don't recall ever having a caramel that was quite like this.

So this was an experiment? Well, then, congratulations is what I have to say. These are already better than some of the truffles I've bought in established stores. Stone Grindz is starting with a good chocolate to begin with, so that already helps a great deal and sets them ahead. That's why the plain ganache turned out well. And then the caramel was a great way of offering me something a little familiar yet so much better than what I might have imagined. Dark Chocolate Ganache and Caramel were also two good flavors to start with: they're popular flavors, with one sounding a little richer and one sounding more casual but with both offering a great flavor experience.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Grandmother's Grandchild

I collect a lot of used books centered around the Southwest. That's nothing unusual, so neither was Grandmother's Grandchild: My Crow Indian Life by Alma Hogan Snell (edited by Becky Matthews). This is the story of a Crow woman from Montana (she was born in 1923) who was raised by her grandmother in traditional ways but also grew up in the increasingly modern setting of a twentieth century reservation. And it's also probably the best of this type of book that I have read, which is the singular trait.

I like hearing people's stories. I'm a listener (this is why, though some people might call me quiet, I get along with talkative people: I genuinely like to hear what other people have to say). So while I don't read many biographies, I love autobiographies (if they're centered on a topic, setting, or person that I'm interested in). Alma's autobiography is the best of listening to a wise, elderly person speak of her life (this book was published in 2000, so she was 77 at the time). By the way, her aforementioned grandmother was Pretty Shield, who gave her story to Frank Linderman to publish, so you may be familiar with Pretty Shield's story (I wasn't, but I would definitely like to get that book in the future, as well).

The greater part of this book covers the time when Alma was young, say under twenty, although she does also describe the main events of her adult life. So you see quite a bit of the 20's, 30's, and 40's, that time when so much was changing. Because Alma was raised by her grandmother, she learned traditional ways of gathering food, preparing hides, and respecting the earth and all living things--more so than if she had been raised by her parents or if (like her older siblings) she hadn't been constantly by her grandmother's side. So you get quite a bit of cultural info that is interesting and the type of thing I had expected to find in this book. The narrative reminded me a bit of Little House on the Prairie in some of the earlier chapters: they're both stories full of descriptions of a fading culture, stories attempting to preserve awareness of the past and the people of the past.

Alma speaks always frankly in these pages. She says what she thought and what she thinks and why. She explains all sorts of things, as well, personal things that she could have glanced over but instead chose to delve into because including such details and incidents makes the story whole. As we get into her adult life, there is some dark content. Yet because she includes all of this, we believe what she says and we believe that it's true.

Alma also talks quite a bit about faith. She explains how the missionaries started churches on the reservations and her grandparents were the first to be baptized in that community. So while they still kept their culture, they moved away from other things that they had once held onto (Alma refers to her grandmother's "Crow powers," which she was at first reluctant to give up). Alma talks about how they already knew that there was a creator, so that was easy to accept. And she also explains their way of accepting the story of Jesus (they called him "The One Pierced in the Hand") as a warrior who gave himself for his children, explaining that everything about that story made sense to them and their concept of what was good. This was all fascinating to me; it reminded me of Emeth in The Chronicles of Narnia.

And then also you have people who were used to believing in what you could call the supernatural, if that's even the right word--and therefore their faith was strong and accomplished things. There are some great stories in there. Alma watches her grandmother stay outside of the storm cellar, lifting her arms to the sky and praying to God to let the storm pass over their house because her grandchildren need it--and then the violent storm completely passes over their house. Or Alma's own stories about praying for healing for people who were sick or injured. Or when she was about to have surgery to remove a tumor; that was a great story.

So you can look at this book as being about the intersection between two cultures. But whose life in this land in the past two hundred years hasn't included the intersection of at least two cultures? (I don't mean to say that Alma wasn't in a specific intersection or to lessen the cultural place that she was in. I'm just saying that these types of themes and concepts are what come together to make real people.) I just loved all of the things that this book offered: the cultural and historical descriptions, the discussions of faith and examples of its influence on life, and the depictions of different kinds of relationships between people. If you're interested in any of these things, then definitely read this book.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Tony's Chocolonely: Extra Dark 70%

Today's review is composed of two sides. So bear with me through all of the negative comments: it does get better towards the end.

The main fact is, if I weren't a chocolate reviewer, I wouldn't have bought this bar of chocolate (Tony Chocolonely's Extra Dark 70%). And I barely even bought it as is. That's how much I hate the packaging. Yes, we do judge books by covers and foods by packing: that's why package design and marketing is so important.

This packaging I find ugly, with its bright colors and huge words (I should perhaps add that I find that it looks worse in person than in the pictures). The company is based out of Amsterdam (the chocolate itself is made in Belgium), so perhaps there is an aesthetic difference between countries that's giving me such trouble. (Or maybe I just hate bright colors that much.) Still, no matter how much I think about it, not only do I not like this packaging--it makes me want to turn away. I guess it kind of reminds me of the cheap Mexican candies for some reason, but a cheap candy look isn't exactly what I want for a bar of chocolate.

And who's Tony? Certainly no offense to anyone who's named Tony, but it's more of a casual name and a name that doesn't remind me at all of chocolate, in order for these letters to take up the bulk of the space. Then Chocolonely? That sounds accusatory to me. Add to that the little lock symbol in the corner (in this day of digital symbols, a lock means private info that you don't have access to) and I feel unwelcome approaching this bar.

Here we come to the main fact. You'll see that the little yellow circle there towards the top has the statement, "Together we make chocolate 100% slave free." You know that I've been placing a greater emphasis on fair trade (even so far as to decide to try and not buy/review chocolate that is not in some way fair trade), so you'd think I'd be cheering. But I've been looking at fair trade packing for years and this is the first time it's looked like this.

I'm sounding very first world here, but this packaging doesn't make for a great start to a chocolate experience. You want to know that you're not having a negative impact on the world with the product you're choosing, but you also don't want to be thinking about that negative impact in the exact moment that you're eating the chocolate. If packaging makes someone feel uncomfortable, they'll either pass it by (without perhaps even thinking about it) or they'll just choose a different fair trade brand. This packaging looks like a pamphlet, not a chocolate bar.

I am not trying to belittle this cause. I'm just saying that if the cause is the only important issue and the chocolate has no value, then by all means just give up chocolate. That'll end slave-produced chocolate. If, however, you are eating/buying chocolate, then you're obviously not giving it up--so the chocolate needs to have its own attention to quality, as well, not just attention to ethics.

The inside of the wrapper is even worse. It's common to use the inside of a wrapper to give more information about the cocoa. A company will use this big white space to explain what country it was grown in, even what specific farm or community. They'll talk about their rainforest initiative. That sort of thing. There is no info inside of this wrapper, just mission statements. (In fact, the cocoa origin is not mentioned anywhere on the packaging, which I find rather odd.)

They make a big deal about not coating the paper they use to wrap the chocolate (even though the chocolate is still also wrapped in standard foil). But isn't it a popular style for craft chocolate to use uncoated, even recycled paper for aesthetic and hipster purposes? Use the paper and mention it, but don't make a big deal out of it. And all of this about how the chocolate bar is divided into unequally sized pieces in order to represent how things are shared in the chocolate industry. Same thing: don't make me feel guilty about putting chocolate in my mouth or I'll just stop eating chocolate. Is this a mission or a food? I know it's both (and again, it is a great mission), but the reality is that chocolate is not required for health purposes. I could live off of the three sisters (corn, beans, and squash, to those of you outside of the Southwest) that are grown locally, but I don't. So let the chocolate be chocolate, otherwise the positive experience gets lost and then what's the point in trying to pursue a chocolate experience after all?

With that said, this is a cool-looking bar of chocolate. There are plenty of chocolates that have unevenly-sized pieces and I've also seen this broken style before, but I still like it. It's fun and it does make for a change from the usual squares. I do have to point out, though, that it could look better. There are so many big air bubbles in the logo. I'm used to seeing plenty of tiny air bubbles to show that something is handmade in small batches and such, but these air bubbles are so big that I wish they had given a little more attention into this part of the process.

I must also add that this bar is massive. That's another thing that turned me off about it (I'm weird in that way). It's 170 grams. I'm used to the 80 to 100 gram bars being the big ones, and the 45 gram bars being the comfortably small ones. This is just huge, about double the average size. That makes no sense to me. If you're pushing the ethics of food so much, then you should be (if anything) trying to get people to eat less chocolate, not encouraging them to eat more by putting so much into one bar. Isn't part of the problem with the chocolate industry the fact that we consume so much of it, which is why so much of it is cheap and grown with slave labor? So limiting the amount of chocolate that we consume can help, too. This massive bar of chocolate just seems contrary to their mission that they're so blatant about.

One last negative comment. Since when is 70% extra dark? That's average dark to me, unless you're talking about a candy bar (which will never get as high as a 70% cocoa content). So does that mean that this is a candy bar quality chocolate? I would certainly hope not, because then it would really not be worth my time and I really would prefer to go without.

Fortunately, however, that is not the case. The aroma of this chocolate is a pretty standard dark chocolate smell; it reminds me of something I'd find at Trader Joe's. The flavor, though, is decidedly Ghirardelli. First I thought of their chocolate chips, but I think what I'm reminded of is their Twilight Delight bar. It has that sort of thick, silvery, chocolate-centered flavor with sweetness lingering around in swirls. The flavor stays pretty constant throughout, except that it gets warmer and softer as you reach the end. A little bit rich. Everything is just right about the texture, which is nice and smooth. Because the bar is so thick, each piece stays melting in your mouth a bit longer than usual, which I suppose can be nice.

So while I may have had such horrible things to say about the packing, I do like the chocolate. Ghirardelli may not be the most couture chocolate (and if you ever see their truffles, steer clear: they're terrible), but I am fond of their chocolate (though I guess I don't really buy it anymore). For me to so directly compare this chocolate to Ghirardelli is a compliment. And given that Ghirardelli is one of those dark chocolates that appeals to the masses, I expect that this chocolate bar will, as well.

I said there were two sides to this review, but I suppose it's really three: great mission, ugly packaging, and good chocolate.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Threads of Thrawn

Tomorrow is Star Wars Day already, which makes me a bit mournful of the fact that Hyperspace Mountain (the Star Wars overlay of Space Mountain at Disneyland) is at long last coming to a close at the end of this month. I had hoped that I would be able to ride it at some point just to be part of this moment in Disneyland history, but now it looks like that won't be happening. Anyway, let's keep up the Star Wars spirit with another Star Wars post, a book this time.

I had heard of Thrawn and The Thrawn Trilogy, though the first time that I encountered the character firsthand was in Rebels, where he instantly lived up to his reputation. And then I got around to reading his trilogy (I'll get to The Hand of Thrawn eventually) recently. Now with the publication of a new canon novel, Thrawn by Timothy Zahn, the scattered threads come together.

Though Thrawn's other books are non-canon now, the new book fits in with what they established about his character. And because of the Rebels tie-in, it makes sense for this book to take place between Episodes III and IV (and also because we have no confirmation that in the new canon Thrawn even survives into the timeline of the OT). That is, it takes place before Rebels, as well: this is the book that shows where Thrawn came from and how he started with the Empire.

So technically it's a villain book because it's all about the Empire's side. But it's nothing like reading Tarkin or Lords of the Sith or Catalyst. It's almost more like reading a Sherlock Holmes story (well, except that Thrawn is much more socially inept than Holmes). You don't have those questions of morality and good and evil and all that sort of angle. Not even motive, that much. It's mainly just a book about showing of Thrawn's ability to assess and analyze a situation and the people involved and to see the pattern and to achieve his mission based on those assessments. Yeah, he's working for the Empire, but strangely not in a sinister way. Thrawn is sinister in the way in which he can instantly see the heart of the matter, but he isn't exactly doing sinister things in this book. At least, not more than any character in a military, wartime situation.

Some of the story is also from the perspective of his aide, young Imperial Eli Vanto who really just joined the Empire with the generic purpose of just getting a good supply officer job. His perspective is there for the reader: he's getting to know Thrawn and trying to understand his technique just like we're trying to see what Thrawn sees. And we also see quite a bit of Arihnda Pryce, who has also been in Rebels. She starts off just as a person trying to make her way and her career, but by the end I almost feel like she is the one who becomes more sinister than Thrawn. So I suppose this book does offer an analysis on character motives and how a person's actions affect him/her.

You know, the way that this book finishes implies a sequel. I haven't heard anything about a sequel, but I definitely see that as a possibility. Or maybe Rebels is/will be the sequel.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Reflection on the Eight-Part Star Wars Set

Considering that it's almost May the Fourth (aka. Star Wars Day), let's go ahead and have a couple of Star Wars posts this week, shall we?

I grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy and with the episode by episode releasing of the prequel trilogy. So it has always seemed natural to me (that is, once I had access to all six episodes to watch at once, which was really only rather recent) to watch the movies in released rather than chronological order. The story just makes more sense that way. (Like how most people agree that The Chronicles of Narnia don't work best in chronological order.) I did try watching the six movies in chronological order; I wrote a short post in reaction (which you can read here), describing the way in which the story became more tragic despite ending with a "happy ending."

I bring all of this up because with the addition of new films, the order in which you watch them is becoming more and more complicated. With Episode VII, I watched it by itself a lot because it was new and therefore I didn't need to combine it with all the others (which I've seen plenty of times by now) all the time. When I did put them all together, I kept to released order, which sort of made sense but also felt weird since the sequel trilogy is indeed a sequel to the original trilogy. And then along came Rogue One.

I figured okay, I probably won't want to watch Rogue One as much, anyway, so maybe it'll just stay separate from the episodes and the issue won't matter. But then I tried watching all eight films in chronological order, expecting it all to be a great mess.

It is a mess: gone are the days when you can watch all the movies in one day, or even one week. Watching one per day, it takes a week and a day now. But I found that somehow the addition of Rogue One made the entire set cohesive.

It's weird to jump from Episode III to Episode IV. But Rogue One bridges that gap with its more modern status combined with its aspiring-for-vintage style. So you don't notice the tone shift so much anymore. And because it's an outside story (that is, it's outside of the Skywalker saga), it allows you to look at the Star Wars universe as a whole rather than being caught up in the Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker character arc (and in questioning how it is best to view that character arc).

And it makes Episode IV's opening crawl so powerful and tragic. You've come fresh off of seeing the team successful and destroyed, and then you see that their efforts are still going on. Even the medal ceremony at the end reminded me of them. It was as if those in charge said, well, we couldn't do anything for the other team, so we will honor their actions by giving this sign of hope to everyone by honoring this new team. And it's as if maybe part of the reason why they so easily accept Luke and Han is because they saw what Jyn and her team were able to accomplish and so they don't want to underestimate anyone.

So I have no idea in what order I'll watch these films in the future. But for now, chronological order fits so perfectly.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Vosges: Vanilla Rooibos Tea Dark Milk

Vosges is another of those chocolate brands that I find I have been inexplicably avoiding. If there was a reason for why I've been ignoring Vosges, I have long since forgotten what it was: it's been years since I had any of their chocolate.

Even now that I return my attention to them because their chocolate is fair trade and even as I quickly got excited about a chocolate with vanilla and cherries, I felt myself hesitating. Over what, I don't know. Sometimes Vosges focuses more on flavored chocolate than I like to do, but this was a flavor I wanted to try. Could it be the packaging? I want to say that the card box looks nice, yet there seems to be something that I don't like that I can't quite put my finger on. Are there too many font colors (red, purple, and white)? Is there too much of a contrast between the frilly logo and the more modern approach of a white background paired with photographs of the various ingredients? I don't know.

The silver wrapper features purple frills to match the Vosges logo, and the chocolate bar has four squares with said logo and four with a woman holding a Vosges bag--she makes me think of founder Katrina Markoff. It's a pretty design, reminiscent of shopping malls and preppy resorts. While not necessarily the usual look for chocolate, it works.

As I alluded to, this particular bar is the Vanilla Rooibos Tea, which contains both rooibos and dried tart cherries. The chocolate is 45% dark milk, which sounds great and is exactly the type of chocolate I need lately. Such a chocolate, in theory, would pair well with both the sweeter nature of the vanilla flavor and the tartness of the cherries. While I like cherries in chocolate and I do like tea, I am not overly fond of rooibos. In tea, I usually only like it when there are plenty of other flavors with it. But the thing is, the labeling describes the rooibos as having the vanilla flavor; when I saw the name, I thought it meant vanilla and rooibos. I believe there is vanilla in the chocolate (it's the most likely candidate for what's called "natural flavor"). But apparently any vanilla flavor comes from the rooibos, which I honestly wouldn't have realized on my own.

The vanilla flavor came and went, and I did at first attribute it to vanilla rather than to rooibos. What I had thought of as the taste of rooibos I only noticed in passing once or twice, which I was fine with, I might add. The cherries have more flavor, though. They may be tart but they're not sour, and they taste just right in this level of chocolate. Speaking of chocolate, the chocolate doesn't have the strongest flavor itself. It just gives a basic milk chocolate flavor, not super sweet (so you can tell that it's up there are 45% cocoa) and also not very dark or full of depth (I might have expected just a tad more). It's a base for the flavors, not a star on its own (because it isn't, after all, on its own).

I do find that I enjoy eating this chocolate. Wherever the vanilla flavor comes from, it goes well with the chocolate and the cherries, which already make for a good pairing. So I'm going to categorize this chocolate bas as an alternative to candy bars. Better quality in all senses of the word but still more of a casual type of chocolate. This is one of those bars, as is pretty common for Vosges from what I remember about them, that is more about the flavors than about the chocolate itself, as you'd expect from looking at the labeling. Dessert chocolate, snacking chocolate, gifting chocolate, all that sort of thing. In fact, I think this one would do well packaged into individually-wrapped squares.

As with TCHO, whatever has kept me from this company in the past, I'm quite enjoying this present moment. I guess the thing about flavored chocolate is that usually we all have our preferences. I know now, for instance, that I'm probably not going to like a chile chocolate much because I just don't usually care for chile chocolate. Or bacon, yuck. Salt, maybe. Caramel, yes. And cherries yes. So in the future, rather than going out of my way to try various flavors, I'm going to try and stick more to what flavors I know I can be a fair judge of. That approach has served me well with this Vanilla Rooibos Tea.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Springtime in the Desert

I don't usually share many pictures. Springtime, however, is the time for pictures. Desert blooms only last for a short time, and so every day that they bloom is precious. At the Desert Botanical Garden, during this time of year, the paths are filled with amateur and advanced photographers alike trying to capture these blooms while they can. So I wanted to share some of my pictures (most are from a couple of weeks or so ago).

A yellow flower to start with.

These blossoming pink flowers remind me of bunched up roses. 

The boojum tree, which spends so much time bare, like a statuesque piece of modern art, here stands with all of its little green leaves.

A bright pink flower on a beavertail cactus.

Luminous gold and deep red on cholla.

The yellow-green of these gives them a papery look.

Palos verdes are beautiful green trees most of the year; in springtime, they are green trunks with branches filled with yellow flowers. When the flowers fall, they leave behind yellow carpets, like this one surrounding these little barrels. 

Not the best view, but you can just make out the red flower tips on the ocotillo. If you look closely, you can see that the green leaves were already starting to die when I took this picture. 

The saguaro blossoms aren't out yet, but now is a good time to share my favorite saguaro at the Desert Botanical Garden. He has his arms reaching upward in praise.

A cluster of yellow.

These also remind me of roses.

Flowers on the tree and fruits on the cholla cactus.

Again, no blooms here, but I just love the way these pointy cactus plants grow up and around the trees. It's like a dance or an embrace. 

And here is a quail in a tree, not running on the ground like you usually see them.

A purple wildflower grows right next to a purple prickly pear, whose own flowers aren't quite out yet.

Pink blooms in the tree, green fruit on the cactus.

Here the pink blooms stand above the cactus's yellow and orange blooms.

Such a bright orange red.

While the full flowers are beautiful, I also love the still-shut buds.

A nice little row.

These, once again, remind me of roses, or like a flower crown.

Springtime in the desert is a magical time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Belief vs. Magical Realism

Magical realism is one thing. Although I do find that magical realism adds an interesting element to a story, today I'm not focusing on magical realism. At least, I don't think that I am. Today I'm focusing on two movies; probably there are more stories that display the same trait I've picked up on, but these are the two I've chosen. The movies are A Little Princess (1995, directed by Alfonso Cuaron) and Secondhand Lions (2003, directed by Tim McCanlies). (You could probably argue that both of these films are magical realism, but I'm taking a different approach.)

And the concept that is "slightly different" from magical realism is the idea that, essentially, belief creates reality. Now, I don't mean this in the sense of Bridge to Terebithia, where the children are playing make believe and because they're choosing to see this magical realm it becomes real to them. There isn't actually any magic in either of the two films I've chosen here. But the characters do have to decide whether or not they'll believe in storytelling, and their decisions to believe or not to believe do directly affect the real world. In other words, your perspective makes a difference.

I'm going to guess that most people have seen A Little Princess but not so many people have seen Secondhand Lions (if you haven't, you should: it's a good movie that only gets better the more times you watch it). This is also a shame because Secondhand Lions is one of those movies that's hard to describe.

Basically you have a boy (Walter) going to live with his great uncles and they tell him stories about when they were younger and went to Africa and had all sorts of adventures--and he has to decide whether or not he believes their stories, stories that don't really sound plausible, stories that a regular person would think that they were just making up. And of course in A Little Princess, Sara tells stories and uses her imagination in order to make other people happy or to lift up her own spirits.

So along the way, the stories that Walter hears begin to actually make sense; that is, there are things that he sees in the real world that could be the results of those stories. Maybe he heard embellished versions of the truth, but he decides that those stories are truth. And because he first decided that they must be true, he is able to hold onto that truth and choose it over alternative versions--and this is what allows him to escape the sort of chain of mistakes that his mother is making and has also been dragging him into, this is what allows him to make into reality his own life. He believes and therefore it is.

Notice this also with Sara. Once Sara loses everything, she and Becky try to rely on make believe to get through the harsh realities of their daily lives. While she used to love storytelling, Sara almost loses her love of it at this time in her life. But her friends help her get back to it, and once again she's the one using imagination to comfort Becky when Miss Minchin sets out their greatest challenge yet. They imagine fancy clothes and a great feast at night--and then wake up to truly find fine furnishings, clothing, and food in their room. It looks like magical realism. But there are all of these hints that it was the neighbor, Ram Dass, who gave it all to them. So it isn't a case that they believed in something so hard (like Peter Pan) that it became true to them. It was that they put forward that positive perspective into the world--and someone noticed and thought that they deserved to have something positive as well as believe in positive. And then, of course, this one instance leads to others until eventually the whole story has a happy ending.

But isn't that interesting? I'm not saying that I dislike stories like Bridge to Terebithia that show the comfort that can be gained from imagination. But isn't it something to see the real world effects of belief in something positive. If you believe in the people around you (like Walter believing in his uncles and Sara believing in her friends and neighbors), they will notice and they will react to that. If you're walking around with something good in your head, you will reap good. And if you're doing good, then some of that will come back to you, one way or another.

Magical realism is a fascinating way for fiction to express something about reality. But when you choose to believe in the right perspective, reality itself gives you a different kind of "magic" that is fully tangible.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Comedy and Drama Meet at Wittenberg

I have come, over time, to love Hamlet's indecision, his crisis over life and death, and simply his overall dramatic conflict. This January I left the theatre entirely captivated after Southwest Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which William Wilson played the title role. How excited was I then to see their latest production, Wittenberg directed by Kent Burnham, in which Hamlet (once again played by Wilson) is a student at Wittenberg before his father dies and his teachers are John Faustus and Martin Luther. Intriguing, no?

Rather than their usual setting at the Mesa Arts Center, Southwest Shakespeare brought Wittenberg to Taliesin West (which is the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture). As this was my first time seeing Taliesin, I must give a nod to the beautiful location and the notable architecture of the place. Simply driving in at sunset was gorgeous.

The theatre itself was smaller than what I'm used to. It was open seating, by the way, so it is advisable to arrive early if you want to be able to choose your seat. I sat in the fourth row because I'm not used to being so close to the actors and because this seemed more at eye level, anyway. As the play began, I found that the small setting worked well for this play: there are only four actors and the content of the play revolves around statements and explorations of their personal viewpoints.

That is, Hamlet is troubled (as Hamlet gets), and Faustus is trying to get him to rely on reason and to simply live life as he wants, while Luther is advising him to rely on religion. And all the while, Luther is himself questioning religion and Faustus's way of living that he so loves is not always turning out the way he thinks it should. So Hamlet is caught in the middle, not sure to whose advice to listen.

Probably it goes without saying that you'll want to have at least basic familiarity with these three figures. The play is full of references to their lives and their quotes. There are plenty of references to other material, as well, but those are the types of details that you can go either way with recognizing or not recognizing; you'll still enjoy the play.

And enjoyable it is. It's a comedy because it's full of laughs. And it's a drama because the characters are asking deep questions. I suppose it's also a tragedy because we know what will happen to Hamlet and Faustus afterward.

Especially for including so many literary, historical, and theological references, this play does not feel heavy at all but rather flows smoothly, thanks no doubt to the performances by the actors. All four of them, William Wilson as Hamlet, David Dickinson as Faustus, Marshall Glass as Luther, and Allison Sell as the Eternal Feminine (she played four different female roles throughout the play), gave top tier performances. They instantly showed the tone of each character, they gave all the right comedic timing, and guided our way through all of these philosophical questions.

In one particular scene, Faustus gives Hamlet one word at a time, asking him to say the first word that comes to mind for each one. Talk about comedy and drama tied into one. It's a funny scene and yet it builds up to the darkness of Hamlet's inevitable fixation on death until it becomes something so tangible that no description of what theatre is seems like enough. I was talking about the fourth wall earlier this week, and this play was more like gazing through the fourth wall until all the walls become a bubble and you're focusing on this sphere of quasi-reality that takes precedence, for this moment, over everything in the real world. That's all thanks, once again, to the actors.

I'll finish with a note on the questions that these characters struggled with throughout the play. We all, at times, feel the conflict between opposing viewpoints. Maybe we align more with one side versus the other, or maybe we really have no idea which makes more sense--but we've all experienced being able to see the two sides. Sometimes it's confusing. Sometimes it's discouraging: even if we know which side we've chosen, it isn't always easy to know how we relate to the opposing side. So I loved seeing these three characters caught up in the opposition, tossing and turning until finally something begins to make sense to them.

Questions. Questions go on as long as life does. We don't need all the answers--we just need the right answers to make clear the uncertainty.

Wittenberg is playing until the 29th. As one of my favorite productions that I've seen from Southwest Shakespeare, I would definitely recommend going to see it. It's one of those plays that you won't forget.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reflections on the Fourth Wall

Lately I have been obsessed with the fourth wall.

The greatest flaw, supposedly, of a book is the last page, specifically the fact that finishing reading the last page pulls the reader away from whatever realness the book created while its pages lasted. Likewise for the dropping of the curtain at the end of a stage production.

But is such really the case? And I'm not just referring to the positive effect that the intentional breaking of the fourth wall (that is, the realm of metafiction) can have on art. I'm talking about what we as the readers or the viewers bring to that wall or ask of that wall or otherwise receive from that wall that enhances our experience.

Let me give some background. Lately (let's say in about the past year) I've been watching a lot of Disneyland videos on YouTube. I stumbled on Fresh Baked and Briberry while looking for Star Wars content. Later I watched the "Confessions of a Retired Disney Princess" video and also found Subway Mouse's channel, Olivia Simone's most recently. I love Disneyland, so naturally I loved hearing behind the scenes stories about how things work/flow or simply who Disney people were and how they came to work there.

(I feel like I should mention here that my intention is not and was not to be creepy or disrespectful. Disney employees and other performers of course have the right to private lives. I don't want to know where they live or where they shop or what they had for breakfast. I just find the voluntarily shared details or the details that you see from observing say one "version" of a character versus another interesting.)

It's fascinating to me to watch these videos and observe that: Wow, that Alice has been there for years, but of course because she's the best one. Yeah, that Hatter was a dancer; he can't hold still, and that was why he brought such great energy to the character. Hmm, so they basically have to be the type of people who always know how to keep a conversation going (or change its course). Oh, is that how they do auditions? Okay, so certain roles like character hosts often go to people who just don't look like any of the characters but still have the personality for it. Look at that, I've never seen any of them break character except for that one time that one boy broke Hatter, Alice, and somewhat Cruella all in one go (Peter Pan didn't break).

Little things here and there. Like seeing how characters recognize certain guests who are there all the time. Or the fact that after watching all of Briberry's videos, you suddenly can tell when the same person is portraying a different character than they usually do--or maybe you even recognize someone out of character. And all of the inside jokes and references to old videos that show how much Disney people love Disney, whether they're in character or out of character.

I have met some characters. Picture from 2013.

The thing is, I never had much interest in the characters at Disneyland. I still don't know that I would be that interested in meeting them, but I have come to appreciate and enjoy their form of live performance entertainment and interaction. It's this extra angle that's gotten me interested. And isn't that often the case? (Though most of this post is about Disneyland, I don't mean to say that my current interest in the fourth wall is only in terms of Disneyland.)

I've always loved watching making of videos for movies, long before DVDs with all their menus of special features came out. I'm talking about the thirty seconds of behind the scenes that would play at the end of some of the Wishbone episodes, or the feature that played at the end of the Wizard of Oz VHS or the ones that played before the Special Editions of the Star Wars VHS trilogy.

And sometimes when you finish reading a book, you don't react in shock that you're pulled out of that world and back into reality. Instead, you go seeking more emphasis on the fourth wall. You read the author's afterword, or a scholar's introduction. Maybe you seek out the author's biography.

The awareness of fiction's state as fiction does not detract from the experience; rather, this awareness and interaction with this awareness often enhances the experience. It gives you an extra layer (or many extra layers) through which to view this piece. Though you lose the sense of reality that comes with forgetting that the piece is fiction, you gain the tangible feeling of something that was created in the real world by real people.

They created something and gave it breath; you looked and saw that the breath was fake; but then you looked and saw them breathing their own breath into this fake thing; and then you saw how the real breath made the fake breath alive.

That's creation, isn't it? And art is creation.

Monday, April 17, 2017

First Glimpse at The Last Jedi

Now that we've all had the weekend to absorb the new movie poster and trailer for The Last Jedi, it is time to share my thoughts.

First let me say that this is a well-crafted trailer. Though I was of course excited to see it, a part of me almost didn't want to watch it because I didn't want the secrecy to end. I need not have feared: there are no spoilers in the trailer. Just enough to let us see the movie without seeing anything that we shouldn't yet.

But what did we see and what did I think of it?

Rey, presumably training with Luke. Exciting, but nothing we weren't expecting.

Leia, in a shot that makes her look very much like Vader. Hinting at something? I can't see darkness coming from Leia, but maybe the shot hints at the legacy of darkness that Leia carries. Or possibly we do learn something that Leia did, perhaps in raising Kylo that helped give him an excuse to turn away. This could simply be the fact that, as revealed in Bloodline, Ben was already an adult when he found out that Darth Vader was his grandfather--which must understandably have made him pretty angry at his mother and his uncle, that they wouldn't have told him this before. Anyway.

Speaking of Kylo Ren. What's that we saw? His mask all broken up? What does that mean? Does his mask literally break, or are we seeing it in a vision, perhaps one that Rey has? Either way, for his mask to break has a symbolic meaning that his dark exterior he has cultivated for himself is breaking. Notice, of course, that we mostly saw Rey in this trailer. Presumably this is because showing Rey on the island "gives less away" than showing Kylo in probably most of his scenes. When we do see him, he isn't wearing his mask--and I'm expecting that he probably won't wear it much in this movie, for whatever reasons.

Finn and Poe are back. Cool. Again, nothing we didn't already know.

Luke speaks. It's funny, after leaving him with no words in TFA, he gets to narrate this trailer. His words are intended to sound like words he says to Rey on the island when he is training or considering training her. But they could be from anywhere in the film, or possibly not even be in the film (after all, he had lines in the TFA trailer that weren't in the movie). So bear that in mind.

When he says that it's time for the Jedi to end, I believe that he is primarily speaking out of guilt or regret for the past. He feels like he could have done better. That's all there is to that. As far as the movie title goes, I'm in favor of the threefold meaning: after all, many of the other titles have multiple meanings, as well. The last Jedi as in Luke is literally the last Jedi left, and it is him that Rey goes to meet and possibly train with in this movie. The last Jedi as in the last generation of Jedi, the trio of Luke and the two people he has trained, Ben and Rey. Perhaps we will learn more about Ben's past and Rey's past that will lend to this trio image. The trio image is also displayed in the movie poster, where Rey acts as the light and the agency and Luke and Kylo are the darkness and the power--and she has influence over them because she is the one holding the lightsaber and they are the ones that spring from the image of the saber. (Interestingly, the red/darkness does spring from the saber, implying that power can all too easily lead to darkness.) And the last interpretation of the last Jedi is, of course, that the Jedi Order as it is will officially come to an end. This is easy to see since the flaws of the Jedi are constantly visible, especially if you include the prequel trilogy. It makes sense that Luke, possibly with Rey's help or insistence, decides that making changes to the system is what will help them move forward into a new generation.

Overall prediction? This movie will see a change in characters' resolutions. Rey, Luke, Finn, Leia, and Kylo will all either make a new resolution or further resolve a current one. This is the start of a new day, and it will probably be a rocky start if it's anything like how fiction (and life, too, I guess) usually is.

The Last Jedi. Let's just relish the ominous sound of that phrase for the next eight months.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Stone Grindz: Wild Bolivia 70%

Last week I had my first introduction to Scottsdale-based company Stone Grindz Chocolate with their Ecuador 70% bar (click here to read that review). This week I'm moving forward to their Wild Bolivia 70%, which was a Good Food Awards 2017 Finalist.

With the same type of packaging and design as the Ecuador bar, the Wild Bolivia is made with cocoa that apparently grows wild along the Amazon River Basin in Bolivia, according to the notes on the back. I would have thought that including "wild" in the name was just descriptive of the style of the flavor. Now, I know I've had chocolate sourced from Bolivia before but it isn't one of the more common sources, so I wasn't quite sure what type of flavor notes to expect.

The deep aroma of the chocolate is reminiscent of Ghirardelli. As with the Ecuador bar, the texture is quite smooth. The flavor, while decidedly different, does come closer to the Ecuador than I might have expected. It's the Stone Grindz style of smooth and mellow chocolate flavor.

Of course, don't get me wrong, this chocolate has its own flavor profile. It begins with what I call the blue flavor of cocoa nibs; when the richness developed, it's more akin to cocoa powder than to brownies. The back of the bar tells me that the flavor notes are malt and cashew, and I do indeed taste a slight nuttiness as the flavor begins to develop. I also want to call it a slight woodsiness that I detect. Same as with the Ecuador, there is sweetness to this chocolate (in an appropriate way) and zero hint of bitterness. Likewise, the chocolate melts without introducing any new flavors.

I can see why, if one of these two bars were to win an award in place of the other, it would be this one. The Ecuador chocolate has a simpler flavor profile, and the Wild Bolivia has more flavor notes to pick up on. While I did give plenty of positive comments on the Ecuador, perhaps my taste buds are finding the Wild Bolivia more interesting, in a certain sense. Its flavor also, I suppose, comes across richer.

Not, of course, that I need to be setting the two up against each other. I don't mean to be doing that; I only want to explain what each bar offers and what each one does well so that you can better decide which you might prefer (that is, if you're choosing between them, but why not just choose both?).

My main point, once again, is simply that this is great chocolate for eating and gift-giving. It's approachable, it's quality, and it's actually made in the city I live currently live in. I am having trouble, I admit, in thinking of what brand or company Stone Grindz most reminds me of (simply in order to describe the type of brand that they are and the type of product they make, not in order to put different companies against one another). That is to say, I am possibly distracted by the fact that this is local chocolate and therefore can't quite put my finger on what I would normally say if this were just random chocolate I came across in a store. For now, though, I don't think my hesitation matters to anyone except me: my "main point" still stands. This is chocolate to please a range of palates.