Monday, December 31, 2018

The New Year Is Upon Us

Shall I cue the return of blogging organization with the new year? Perhaps, perhaps not. We shall see. I was doing so well for a while there. Mayhap I will discover again the thing that is called an organized schedule of tasks for different days.

This past year passed so quickly in one sense and yet also seemed to fill in the space of more than just a year. Without going into detail, there has been so much ground I've covered in this year. And also so little.

I came home today delighted by my Victorian Christmas tree and my Victorian etagere and my books and my coffee table and my new record player. And I just . . . am glad of where I have come to be. Even while there is so much more to settle, there is also so much that has been settled.

When you're at that point that you look around and you like the progress that your life has been through. Maybe there is plenty more to go, but you're glad for what has progressed. In the last year or so, I have learned the practice of continual thanks and that has enhanced my ability to enjoy everything.

I see everything on a different plane now. Places, people, moments. Beauty has such a strong and different meaning from the general one.

I feel like I have so much more to give to my second book than I did to my first one--and yet I never seem to take the time to work on it for more than brief moments here and there. In a way, though, I think that this might be okay because maybe I will be better capable of working through it later than at the current moment. Maybe stewing is good.

I know everything and nothing.

I am alive and you are alive and it is good that we are alive. Let's live.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Theo: Root Beer Barrel Dark Chocolate

Theo's Root Beer Barrel bar is the second of their no-longer-new chocolates that I've been wanting to try for quite a while now. My head skipped over the "barrel" part and was just thinking of root beer the soda, but it turns out that Theo was going for root beer barrel candy rather than the soda. Being of the younger generation, that candy wasn't the first thing to come to mind, though I definitely do remember them. Hmm. Even though they're more of a nostalgia candy and I do tend to love the nostalgia candy, I don't think I usually see them for sale with other such candy. I can't think of seeing them for sale anywhere in particular; I just know that I do remember eating them. The idea of root beer barrel chocolate, in any case, is definitely what I would call a unique concept.

By the time this chocolate bar came to be unwrapped by me, it wasn't looking too pretty anymore, so I would almost rather skip photographing it at all. However, I did desire to capture this little gem peeking out; it's the candy element that I hadn't been expecting when I at first thought of simply root beer soda. But if you're going for root beer barrel candy, then a crunchy candy element makes sense.

Along with the Theo dark chocolate aroma (this is their 55% cocoa), this bar does have a distinct root beer scent to it. Though I'm not at all a soda person (surprise, surprise, eh?), root beer is the one I have more affection for (along with cream soda). It has that old-fashioned flavor and feel that takes you back to the young days of soda, the days in which you went out to the soda fountain to get a drink instead of buying it by the liter at the grocery store.

You'll want to crunch slightly into this chocolate to get into the flavor. Then you'll start getting that root beer taste along with the sugared candy flavor, all kind of enveloped in the chocolate. It's unique without feeling weird. That spritzy root beer taste springing around rather amazes me: it tastes just right. And the sugary bit is in the perfect balance, just enough to give that reminder of candy. The chocolate, as well, comes in with the correct proportion. It's dark enough to hold its own and keep the piece from being candy while also not so dark as to lose that sense of whimsy.

I definitely recommend this one. It's what nostalgia chocolate or novelty chocolate should be. It's what casual chocolate should be. It's what flavor experiments should be. It's a lot of fun and it tastes good and it's good quality. It's exactly the type of product that Theo continues to deliver so well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Oz on the Big Screen

While it is an experience to watch a movie for the first time on the big screen, it is equally so to see a movie that you've seen many times before on the home screen on the big screen for the first time. The movie in question right now is The Wizard of Oz.

What a grand and great spectacle is The Wizard of Oz. The visuals and the acting and the music and the effects. I used to watch this movie so often, along with the making of material that would play along with the VHS rental. And yet still there were, on the big screen, things that I had never quite noticed before. Small things in a corner of the frame or just details that needed more space to come across. So much detail.

It's like watching a movie for the first time; it really is. Imagining that this audience is the audience that sat to watch this movie when it first came out back in the thirties. The excitement as the tornado gets stronger and closer. The awe when the film turns all at once to color when you reach Oz. The merriment of meeting the Scarecrow, the first of Dorothy's new friends and travel companions. 

When I was younger, probably it was all of the visuals that drew me in to this movie. Now I greatly appreciate its theme. The theme is appreciating what you have. Dorothy realizes that she has friends and family that she cares about and who care about her and that she wouldn't trade those relationships for anything. The Wizard of Oz may not be a holiday film, but reflecting on it during the Thanksgiving to Christmas time has felt entirely fitting. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Holidays Commence

Each holiday season keeps developing anew. This year there was much more to go along with Halloween . . . and also a little less. I have a few Halloween decorations but I didn't even put them out because I simply didn't feel like it. Thanksgiving I went for in full force with my usual flocks of turkeys and Thanksgiving day itself, while nice, slipped by so quickly in favor of a very busy Black Friday weekend.

My head emerged to find that, in and out of it all, I managed to put up my tree and various other dressings. It looks festive . . . and yet it took me a moment to be able to look over and be pleased that it was festive. My eyes were at first still a little tuned out to Christmas lights and all.

I also stumbled into Southwest Shakespeare's Holiday Show. Once more, I'd been certain that I wouldn't be able to go, so I'd been in the mindset that I didn't need to see it. Suddenly, though, there I was, making my way over to Taliesin West. Taliesin. Taliesin is always worth a little trip with the way that it's nestled among the saguaros a step out away from the city. The show itself was a sort of mix of music and sketches, Christmas mainly with a touch of Hanukkah. A casual and merry concoction to usher in holiday time.

While I don't involve Santa in any of my Christmas decorations or traditions, I've realized that The Samta Clause is one of my favorite Christmas movies (along with Mickey's Christmas Carol). So some eggnog and the movie and some of the last of the Thanksgiving pumpkin pie one night also started to set the tone.

Maybe it was the Christmas shopping that set me off, too. Usually I have most of my Christmas shopping done by November; this year I had barely started. So digging in to that and getting started on, ahem, stocking things (I have always loved the idea of candy; home videos of me on Christmas morning at two years old will verify this) started to settle me in.

Not that I think Christmas is all about gifting and decorations (which is part of the reason why I like to shop early: so that by the time the season actually starts, I'm done thinking about gifts). Christmas is also about light and about new beginnings and about joy and about accepting the light and sharing the light and enjoying the light together.

This year I finally bought a star for my tree. I have a Victorian-esque tree with just "candles" and pinecones and a few berries. I'd been holding out on buying a star until I found one that I really liked. This one is from Balsam Hill. It's covered in beads and the beads catch the light from the tree.

Let's catch and spread the light this Christmastime. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Turkeys Go Marching Two by Two

Turkeys, turkeys, turkeys. Turkeys are my dears. And Thanksgiving is my dear, too. So in honor of the Thanksgiving season, here are my new turkeys this year (I already have very many).

First off is this little bowl I found secondhand last week. Given that I already own the matching teacup and saucer, it was a nice find.

This wooden trivet is a handmade item I found at Wheat's Fair Trade Store. Always good to keep them in mind for products like this. 

World Market kept going with their dressed-up turkey this year by putting him on a name card holder. I probably won't be using it in the intended way, so I just got one. 

From their new plates this year, I went for the lady turkey and skipped out on the tom because I already have him on a previous design. I don't mind the clothing on the turkeys, but I do wish they'd left out the purse. It takes away from the tone to me.

Somewhat similar in style is my Masha D'yans calendar. Her work is so fun, and the November illustration is no exception.

One antique store find out of two. This one is made of shells and the other is a green, Navajo folk art piece (I didn't get a picture of that one). I think this is the first Thanksgiving I've had both of them.

Last is the little clay turkey someone gave me. It's sitting happily on my whatnot shelf with all the pigeons. 

Just one week left in the time of the turkeys. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Death of Charlie Parker

Given that normally I'm not much of a jazz fan, I did think I might skip Charlie Parker's Yardbird from Arizona Opera's RED series. When I won some tickets at Aria Jukebox, though, that seemed the perfect excuse to go ahead and see something a little different, something that didn't call to me as much. Oftentimes, after all, it's the risks that lead to exciting and new artistic experiences.

Musically, though, this piece felt more like opera than jazz than I'd been expecting. Maria de Buenos Aires in September, for instance, was the tango opera that had the definite tango feel to the music. I am, however, without any knowledge of music, so this is all I can say on this aspect. I only bring it up to mention that it wasn't the style of the music that ended up keeping me distant.

It was the story. The production takes place after Charlie Parker dies. The concept is that he is writing his last piece, a symphony, before he moves on. Instead of seeing him write a symphony, though, we hear him talk about writing and we see him reliving moments in his life/meeting again important people from his life. And while there are certainly inspirational aspects to his story, mainly his life just came across as incredibly depressing.

A musically brilliant man going up against segregation and discrimination. A boy from a small town who wants to make it big in the city. A man who falls from one relationship into another. A person who finally jumps into the arms of drugs to try and deal. I tend to be a sucker for depressing artist stories, but not of this variety. This plot wasn't really for me, so it was hard to come out of this production either moved or entertained in more than a casual way.

Not to say that there weren't aspects that even I, as I suppose the wrong target audience, didn't appreciate. The performers did well. Stephanie Sanchez as Baroness Nica brought me back to the feeling of Main Stage performances at Symphony Hall. Joshua Stewart as Parker himself had some moments of absolutely sweet and warm notes. Du'Bois A'Keen added a unique element as the dancer giving a visual interpretation of the music. He reminded me somewhat of Emma Shapplin's dancer on her Macadam Flower tour. And this production was a great example of the successful use of projection. They projected onto real bases in order to give the sense of different places while also making each of those places feel solid.

Hmm. I try and make a point of the fact that I don't write reviews; I write reactions. And when it comes to Arizona Opera, I write reactions as a casual yet regular attendee without any knowledge of music or opera. When it comes to Charlie Parker's Yardbird, that leaves me with very little to say. What this production offered to me was a contrast. By being part of the mix, it showed me how wonderful certain other productions are and helped me to see just why they can be so moving.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Theo: Cinnamon Horchata

I had heard tell, through means of that called the Internet, of some exciting flavors from Theo for quite a while. Given that I don't normally order chocolate, such flavors had to wait until finally I saw them at World Market earlier this year. We'll start off with the Cinnamon Horchata, which is a perfect flavor combination to ease us into fall.

As is usual with Theo, the packaging is lovely. Flowers and cinnamon sticks and red patterns and yet it's all kept against a white background so as to stay balanced and not chaotic or overdone.

Now, I didn't get much of the cinnamon flavor on the first bite until the chocolate was almost melted. It is, though, a good cinnamon taste, fresh and with the right amount of strength. You can taste it in a strong sort of way and yet not in such a way that it becomes spicy.

What makes it Cinnamon Horchata, though, you ask? That would be the crisped rice. The odd thing, though, is that Theo has gone with the current trend to use both crisped rice and quinoa. I've already gone over why I don't see the point in doing that, but I also don't understand in this case because rice is what you use in horchata, not quinoa. So if the crisped rice is the only horchata element (and already an element that's kind of stretching the concept), then why take out part of it to use quinoa?

Still, that's all in theory. In practice, the quinoa is indistinguishable from the rice. The crispy texture isn't exactly reminiscent of drinking horchata, though it is true that naming this chocolate Cinnamon Horchata sounds more exciting than Cinnamon with Crisped Rice. So I suppose it works.

Theo makes good milk chocolate, some of my favorite milk chocolates to share with people. This bar contains their 45% milk chocolate, so it's a little richer, which goes well with the cinnamon. And, you know, if you like some crisped rice in chocolate to give it that casual touch, then here it is. Theo does wonderfully with chocolate like this. Chocolate that has a simple flavor (cinnamon in this case) and a touch of uniqueness (the crisped rice) and a solid, quality chocolate base.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Horror of Frankenstein

Despite being perhaps the most famous story of them all, Frankenstein is one of those books that tends to take readers by surprise. Expecting a horrific tale full of action and suspense, they instead find a book filled with pages of philosophical thought. And despite there being movie adaptation after adaptation of the story, most of them focus on the physical scene of bringing the creature to life rather than on all of the philosophical thought (not to say that they don't include it at all; they just put the focus on the action).

Southwest Shakespeare Company is currently performing Quinn Mattfeld's adaptation of Frankenstein. He is part of the new artistic director team of the company. What this production, directed by Patrick Walsh, sought to present was a balance between the action and horror that modern audiences expect from this story and the philosophical elements that Mary Shelley herself wrote in her novel. They allowed the story to get a little dark and spooky at times to go for that Halloweentime feel and they also kept in passages of deep thought about life and death and creation and science and experimentation.

Now, I did overhear someone commenting that the play, while extremely well-acted, was a bit choppy. I did also get the overall sense that much of the audience, if they had read the novel at all, didn't really remember much from it. So what someone else might have found as choppy, I found as their way of balancing out these two elements of the story and keeping it from being a flat, monotone, philosophical piece. I should here note that I'm not calling Shelley's novel flat or boring. Far from it; it's a wonderful work. It's just what we would today call "slow," which doesn't necessarily lend itself towards something like a movie or a play today. And that is, of course, why most of the adaptations take such a different focus.

There was, certainly, more narration in this play than there tends to be in plays. Yet the way that scenes were played out kept things moving. The lighting, too, helped to create that sense of drama and weight and also to express the violence of certain scenes (like Mary's death) that couldn't necessarily be played out live. Joshua Murphy once again ruled the stage as the Creature, playing both the newly-created childlike figure and the classically-educated man. Jesse James Kamps as Dr. Frankenstein brought the obsession of a man fully bent on a project and the true horror of a man faced with a situation to which he can see no solution.

That's the horror of Frankenstein, isn't it? Creation is part of life and death is part of life and creation unleashes a whole new world of possible occurrences which you cannot predict.

You still have two more chances to catch Frankenstein; it's running through this Saturday at the Mesa Arts Center.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Tale of Pericles

Currently in repertory from Southwest Shakespeare Company are Pericles and Frankenstein. The latter I was keen to see from the start but the former I thought I would see if I could but wouldn't be too sad if I had to miss. I knew nothing of Pericles and the name evoked a historical, military story about leaders and duties and valor and dry content. Turns out that such is not the picture at all.

True, Pericles is a king. And there are other leaders and such figures throughout the play. And yet the play is anything but dry. It's emotionally moving and dark and light and fun all at once. It's a fantasy, where impossible things happen, and yet it's grounded in real world feelings, as well. It's a story of love and tragedy and happiness and sorrow. There were moments that were like watching a tragedy and moments akin to watching a comedy and yet somehow the play never quite landed on one or the other: it took the best of both. As someone who tends to favor the tragedies more than the comedies when it comes to Shakespeare, this was the perfect blend.

Stylistically, music was once again a central element to the production, as it often has been lately with Southwest Shakespeare. And this was one of those instances where music lent a painfully tender joining force to the scenes. The main piece they played with was "Sleepsong" which listeners of Secret Garden will recognize. If you're familiar with the song, you'll already know the specific emotional atmosphere it creates. So picture that entwined within live, dramatic scenes of heartbreak and heart-healing.

Usually it's hard for me to watch and follow along with and enjoy a Shakespeare play with which I have no familiarity. Usually it helps to know, going in, the gist of the story or, ideally, to already know the characters and the important scenes and the different possible ways to bring it all together. This time I knew nothing and yet I could follow along so well. Director Quinn Mattfeld and the whole team involved did a great job of creating a production digestible to a modern audience. It was fun and exciting and touching. All of the actors, as well, brought everything together seamlessly, even when they were jumping from one character to another (quite different) character in a single moment, often without even leaving the stage. Joshua Murphy, as Pericles, in particular gave the audience that emotional link.

Pericles isn't someone we can relate to, from one way of looking at it. He's a king, for one thing, and the things that happen to him are quite different from the things that happen to most of us. And yet his emotion was something for us to relate to. I particularly enjoy that we could go through everything that this plot went through and still come to that ending. That's . . . peaceful.

Well done. This was probably one of my favorite productions from Southwest Shakespeare. And you still have a couple more chances to see it, too: it's running through this Saturday.

Monday, November 5, 2018

First Friday at the Opera

The leaves are falling (in other parts of the state) and the mornings are becoming cool and the Thanksgiving turkeys are gobbling all over my apartment and all the artsy things have emerged once more. The summer season is the off season for Arizona in many ways. Now all the shows are starting up again and the outdoor festivals and all sorts of other events, like Arizona Opera's First Friday Aria Jukebox.

I almost thought I might not make it to this one, but it was great that I did. I may have won some tickets to see one of their shows, so in addition to getting an hour of live entertainment for the evening they're also getting me in to a show. Thanks, friends.

As I've described before, the concept of Aria Jukebox is that you get to vote on which songs you would like the performers to sing. Then you get to hear those songs in a small setting. So it's a chance to get a close-up glimpse of performance that is quite different from going to Symphony Hall and seeing an elaborate production far away on the stage. Going to the opera is wonderful but so is getting to see some of these artists in person and see what it is like to make performance your craft. There is also, of course, the human element of seeing someone in person right in front of you versus simply hearing their voice coming from a stage. It's a bit behind the scenes.

Compared with last year, this event was more brief. They, for the most part, took out the Q&A, so that definitely shortened things. If you are taking part in other First Friday events, then I can see how more people would be willing to attend this one knowing that it won't take up the bulk of the evening (although I personally don't mind it going longer). I wonder, too, if they might consider having it start later. Six can be a little early for people to have a chance to make it over on a Friday night.

Once more, events like this remind me how great it is to live in the city. I love pretty nature and open landscapes . . . and I love the arts. So while I am in the city, I'll take advantage of all that it has to offer. The Phoenix area has much to offer from the world of the arts.

Friday, November 2, 2018

TCHO: Banana Nut

Well, well, banana chocolate certainly has turned out to be almost a new trend, hasn't it? We've gone from no banana chocolate to banana chocolate everywhere. This time it's in the Banana Nut Dark Chocolate from TCHO. And this time there are also almonds, which sounded less intriguing to me, but okay, let's go for it.

You can see those almonds quite visible on both sides of the chocolate bar. The chocolate comes in with that midway-dark aroma, which makes sense given that it has a 55% cocoa content. On the first bite, I tasted almonds, then some semisweet chocolate chip chocolate, then some salt, and then maybe some banana. The third bite had more banana. Said banana had a feeling halfway between a banana chip and a dried banana. Given that these are in fact freeze dried bananas, that feeling is about right.

The gist of it is that you get more or less banana in different bites depending on how big or small those bites are and how much banana you're getting in each bite. TCHO definitely did, though, capture the banana taste. Possibly the banana effect is stronger here than in many of the banana chocolates I've been trying. Maybe the banana pieces are bigger? That's hard to tell, though, given that there always seems to be a second texture element, the almonds in this case. I'll get back to those in a second, though.

First let me give a word on the chocolate. I suppose this is dark chocolate instead of milk to give more of an idea of quality but it's that semisweet chocolate chip chocolate, which is nice in its way but makes me feel caught in between two things. I wouldn't have minded just going with milk chocolate.

The almonds I'm not sure about. Whether or not they were necessary is, I suppose, an opinion. I imagine that they add to the concept more than to anything else: almonds sound hip and healthy these days. Though it's also true that if you look at a different side of things, the almonds can instead bring you around to the dessert side. Chocolate chips and bananas and nuts are maybe almond chocolate chip cookies with banana slices and ice cream? Yeah, this chocolate is a decent concept of such a dessert. And TCHO often goes for dessert type flavor combinations, so it fits.

In the end, I'd say it works.

Monday, October 29, 2018

'Tis a Strange Garden

Around Halloween, the Desert Botanical Garden has their Strange Garden event a couple of nights. Now, if you're like me and you don't have kids that you'd want to take specifically to the event and you have membership so you usually try to avoid high traffic times, you can still get a taste of Strange Garden by going during the day around the time of the event (or even in the evening on a night near the event night). You will still get to see the wonderful pumpkin scenes this way.

I went during possibly the worst lighting time of the day, especially since I wasn't expecting to bump into the scenes right away in the Wildflower Trail (last year they were set up in another part of the garden that I walk through more on my way out instead of first thing).

First I found this delightful family playing with their child.

Then these pumpkins were doing some work in the field. 

These were swinging from the palo verde branches. 

And some more goofing off, skateboarding and biking and such. 

This one was just sitting and enjoying the peace of the garden. 

These two were on a hilltop enjoying the peace of each other's company beneath the teddy bear cholla. 

And behind some other cholla, I caught glimpses of a campsite. 

Then there was this one jumping rope in the bushes. 

And these I think shoeing their horse (it's kind of hard to tell from the picture and I didn't stay to look at this one too long in person because there were other people nearby taking their time checking it out so I didn't want to get in their way). 

Even some mariachis playing tunes to the plants. 

This girl with her ponytails was just wandering around waving her ribbon wand. 

And the hula dancers were hula dancing. 

And the diver was diving into a little pool beneath. 

Not part of Strange Garden, yet still fitting with the theme, the Giant Starfish are in bloom right now. Yes, that flower is from the green sticks behind it (and you can even see some of the unopened, still forming flowers on the right side). They're one of my favorite flowers at the garden because of how amazing it is when they finally appear (most of the year you won't see the flowers, so they're a special treat to see). 

And then there were some eyes here and there on the prickly pear. 

And on this guy, too.

And again, not part of the extra theming, but I was excited to see these cactus in bloom, too. They're also one of my favorites (I mean, look at the great shapes they make on the ground) and I usually only see them in bloom in spring. We've just been getting so much rain lately that all the plants are rejoicing. 

And here are some pretty green sticks growing around a palo verde. Lovely, aren't they?

One more Starfish to finish it off. You can't tell from the picture, but this one was huge, much larger than the others that I usually see. If you're familiar with the garden, this one was over by the Patio Cafe; maybe because I walk there less often, I hadn't even realized that this plant was over there, too. (Well, they do also move some plants around, so it's possible that it hasn't always been there, but it looks pretty settled to me, don't you think?) And it's so far from its plant that it's even more amazing to think of from where it's growing. 

'Tis a strange and lovely garden, indeed. 

Astor Chocolate: Halloween Selection

A little early in the week to be doing a chocolate review, but that would be because I wasn't planning on reviewing any Halloween chocolate until I suddenly happened upon these two at World Market and decided that I might as well. This is chocolate I would normally avoid, but given that specific holiday chocolate can be scarce (especially strange given the abundance of candy around Halloweentime), I'll sometimes just go ahead and cover a little bit of novelty chocolate like this.

There were in fact three Halloween bars for sale from Astor Chocolate. I picked up the Jack-o-Lantern and Frankenstein's monster bars. There was also a witch, which I skipped because it was simply a plain dark chocolate. There is never much to say about plain (milk or dark) novelty chocolate.

These are part of Astor's Moodibars line. Most of them are emotions, like Grumpy or Happy or Tired. These are a little different, though. The Pumpkin Spice Milk Chocolate is Scary and the S'Mores Milk Chocolate is Monster. And you know what's scary about them? How plain the bars look. Especially when it's novelty chocolate, you kind of wish there were more novelty to it than just a boring Halloween label. But that's just the way of novelty chocolate, so perhaps I shouldn't complain.

Let's start with the Monster bar. Immediately, the chocolate smells like milk chocolate with a hint of marshmallow and tastes pretty strongly of marshmallow, as well. The milk chocolate is milk chocolate; nothing to say there. A slightly crunchy texture at first seems to come from the marshmallows since they're the strongest taste but is probably in fact from the graham cracker element. They don't add anything to the taste. The vanilla flavor is a taste you'd already expect to get from the marshmallows and the chocolate so you associate it more with them than with the graham crackers--and anyways, there is no vanilla in the "graham crunch" in the ingredients and in fact the last ingredient is "french vanilla," so that vanilla flavor is in fact separate from the chocolate and the marshmallow, as well.

It's a nice chocolate candy. I won't say that it isn't. I'm going to finish eating it, kind of gladly even. But the chocolate itself isn't great and the flavors aren't anything that another company couldn't do just as well.

Now we'll move on to the Scary bar. Pumpkin Spice is definitely a scary concept these days, so this one is aptly named. The smells is warm like nutmeg, so nothing scary there. When I snapped off a piece, I was surprised to see a kind of filling inside. You know, the type that looks and acts almost the same as the chocolate but is visible as a separate, softer element. That seems to be where the flavor is. And um, this is not one of those cases of pumpkin spice as in the spices you use for pumpkin products; this is pumpkin spice as in spiced pumpkin. There is a weird, wannabe pumpkin flavor and simply a bad flavor that my mouth is rejecting as either a spoiled taste or a taste so artificial that it is foreign and unpleasant to me. Just adding cinnamon and such to milk chocolate is in fact quite nice and this could have been another pleasant chocolate candy--except that it tastes bad. When I checked the ingredients here, I did see the culprits: pumpkin powder, pumpkin pie flavor, and pumpkin spice extract. Those are apparently part of the "pumpkin spice ganache." I hate to put a bad name on ganache with this. If Astor used better ingredients, they could avoid such negative flavors. But I guess that isn't what they aim for. This one is so unpleasant that I won't even be finishing it.

I do dislike to be so negative. I thought I was just going to go with the casual "they're fun to eat but they're not great" comments. Instead I'm illustrating why I normally just avoid reviewing chocolate like this: it isn't fair to dwell too much on the negative. Yet this post also ends up being a commentary on the need for more seasonal chocolate of decent quality (with a long shelf life, that is: chocolate shops do make seasonal truffles and things that are often quite nice). And Halloween, too, seems to keep getting bigger and bigger year after year. Instead of just having scary bad chocolate, why can't we get some spooky and delightful chocolate, too?

Sleeping Beauty

Ah, I've been waiting for Ballet Arizona to do Sleeping Beauty again because I've been hoping for years to see this ballet. I absolutely could not miss it this time, no matter any inconvenience. Because Tchaikovsky, Tchaikovsky is just the best.

With a ballet, as I've mentioned before, especially one like this one, watching is much like viewing a silent film. The performers are portraying a story with their movements and the accompanying music provides the backdrop for it all. Except that when it's music like this, the music itself is so stirring and so rich and so gorgeous that it is the music that is holding you and guiding you. Just to go and hear this music played live would have been worth it.

And yet it wasn't just music. There were also the usual elaborate and beautiful costumes and sets that Ballet Arizona does so well. The Nutcracker is the one that gets all the attention, but really they do a great job with their other productions, as well. Sleeping Beauty, too, just lends itself to visuals. The interior of a castle or a peaceful woodland. The dresses of royalty or the garb of fairies.

I sometimes don't entirely know what I think of ballet. Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake are amazing because, you know, Tchaikovsky. So I think that's what I need with ballet. I need a bit of magic to it. Whether it's magic in the awe of it like with Opus Cactus (although was that even entirely ballet?), or with the fairy tale quality to every detail of the production that exists with shows like this one. The magic is what gives me the connection.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Woodblock Chocolate: 70% Dark

How could I possibly resist the packaging of this little 70% Dark Chocolate bar from Woodblock Chocolate? How? I'm a Victorian at heart in many ways, so the fluffy roses against the cream background and the name and the whole "handmade in this one city in Oregon" thing just won me over. The tiny bar doesn't really have any info on cacao origin, so I knew I was possibly bending my chocolate rules a bit by buying this one, but I decided that the whole handmade thing would be enough, if nothing else.

Now, I'll note here that I didn't look up the company until after I'd put together my tasting notes (you never want to read the good things a company has to say about itself until after you've tasted the chocolate, otherwise you'll bias yourself, one way or another). But it turns out that they do have specific information on their website about the plantations where they obtain their cocoa. This bar is their house blend, which is the Cajamarca, Peru together with Balau, Ecuador. Woodblock adds nothing to the chocolate except for sugar. They describe this house blend as essentially being an elevated version of the familiar, what I would call something approachable that is also better than what you might be used to. That is, something that will be easy to take in for someone who hasn't had much artisan chocolate and also something that will work well with added flavors.

This chocolate is exactly what they promise.

I've already mentioned how lovely the packaging is. The roses, by the way, are there because Portland, Oregeon is apparently the "City of Roses." This bar is quite small at just 25 grams, which I naturally like because I think that most chocolate bars are in fact too big. Smaller bars will encourage us to support better quality and better ethics in the chocolate that we consume.

The design of the chocolate goes along with the "woodblock" concept. The more masculine, woodsy look sets nicely against the feminine, rosey look of the outside. The chocolate smells deep and silvery, akin to something like Ghirardelli. It snaps well. Initially a little hint of bitterness plays around the edges of thought, not quite tangible but just enough to give it a little twist. There is that taste of sugar in there where it's kind of a separate element. A little bit in, the flavors develops more into a chocolate richness, becoming warm and deep. Essentially ti's that straightforward and strong and great cocoa flavor.

What this chocolate is is a wonderful example of a nice and solid dark chocolate. Familiar, endearing, comforting, and straightforward. The elegant, handmade look of the packaging (and Woodblock's own description on their website) perfectly describes what this chocolate brings. Nicely done. This was another chocolate I found at World Market and I only picked up the one bar. So while I don't know if I'll be seeing anymore around, I'll now feel free to get more if I do come across more.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Thrawn: Alliances

Of course everyone who loves the character of Thrawn was excited about the sequel book Thrawn: Alliances that came out late this summer. I, however, was excited when I found out late in that the book was going to feature Padme--and Padme/Anakin. (Who else is super excited that Claudia Gray has a book about Padme coming out next year? We need more Padme. And then how about a book about Shmi Skywalker? No? Anyone? Just me on that one?)

One half of the story takes place in the "present," which is during the time between Episodes III and IV. The other half takes place in the past, which is the Clone Wars era. There are interesting aspects to the present storyline: you get to see dynamics between Vader and Thrawn and all of that. Mainly, though, it was the past that lured me in.

I love to see that time. I like to see Padme at her best, as the double figure of ambassador and heroine. And I like to see Padme and Anakin's relationship, specifically the ways in which they lived that double life. They're steadfastly connected and they do work together publicly but they're also trying to pretend that they're just casual acquaintances.

And then there is also the Vader/Anakin connection. That's where the present storyline was great to watch, as well: you saw the shadow of Anakin over Vader. There is this sense of the past that he suppresses and tries to pretend doesn't exist--but it's still there.

Hmm. Obi-Wan said that Vader killed Anakin and that when Vader came into being Anakin died. But did he? Can you truly kill a good person? A good person can let destruction reign, yes. But does goodness die so easily?

So, anyways, while I didn't overly care about what the plot was or wasn't (it had an element of mystery/curiosity to it, but I was never curious to discover what was going on), I did enjoy what this book offered as far as characterization, which is of course what I'm after from Star Wars in the end, anyways.

(And yes, Disneyland fans, including me, will love the inclusion of Black Spire Outpost, as well.)

Monday, October 15, 2018

Writing Adventures: Part 13

So. I've had this draft sitting for a while. I only add to it bit by bit because it's hard right now to have time to really sit with it and let it develop more. However, I think I'm going to let it sit even more because I think I have something else to do first.

The idea first came in to my head some months ago. Now it's more prevalent, and it's one of those things where I feel that if I'm considering it at all, then that means I must see it through.

So my second book may not in fact be my second novel. Instead, it might be what I suppose for now we'll just call more of a non-fiction piece. Probably something quite short, unless it develops into more that I can't see yet.

As I've had some more days here and there to myself and as simultaneous contentment and concern have bubbled within me, I've felt more content to spend a random hour or even just half hour in the evening writing. I'm not just tired wanting to relax; I want to work on this my chosen craft. (Did I chose it, though? Or was it chosen for me? If the latter, then even more reason for me to develop it.)

I have things I want to share and maybe need to share. With how many people I don't know and that doesn't matter; even one person would be enough. So the other manuscript will continue sitting (maybe I'll still work on it at my turtle pace; we'll see) while I try and focus on this new project.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Blanxart: Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts

The chocolate reviews are starting to pile up again, so it's time to maybe start doubling up once more.

When I went to World Market in September, it felt like I hadn't been there in a while--and felt even more so when I walked in and found many new products, including chocolates. Now, World Market used to get in new chocolates around the new year and they would pretty much have those for a year before switching out again. But these days I'll see a different brand for a few weeks maybe and then never see it again. Or maybe I'll randomly find it months later on the sale shelves. So I've learned to just go ahead and buy what I want when I see it, otherwise I might lose my chance.

I, as you know, am trying to keep certain standards when it comes to chocolate. Certain ethical standards. But sometimes I'm flexible. This bar was just too tempting with its rustic, Old World. And it's made in Spain. There's just something about chocolate made in Spain that lures me in, makes me want to at least try it. And it always seems to be milk chocolate that I find from Spain. All of this plus the fact that there are hazelnuts in this chocolate meant that I just had to get it.

The thick bar has a simple and plain look that adds to the old-fashioned style. Biting into one of the chunks reveals first the taste of the hazelnuts. You only begin to taste the chocolate really towards the end, once it's more melted. By that point, you have plenty of hazelnut taste in your mouth, so the two flavors really blend, which is of course wonderful. I'm also getting something of a cinnamon flavor. Either there are spices hidden in the ingredients list or it's just the way all the flavors are put together or I'm just making it up. However it is, I do get more of a warm flavor to the chocolate that makes me think of cinnamon. It makes me feel very at home.

All of that said, this chocolate bar is light on chocolate flavor. As you can see, it's a 33% cocoa content chocolate, which is light, although light is also pretty normal when it comes to milk chocolate. I don't, in this case, mind at all, though. It's milk chocolate and it's hazelnut chocolate and there is enough flavor going on that it doesn't need to be all about the chocolate. Not always.

Sure, this isn't what I'd call a gourmet bar at all. Yet I'm quite fond of it. If I had a little more info on sourcing and if it were readily available to buy all the time, I'd recommend it as a go-to candy/snacking bar.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Black Butterfly: Fleur de Sel Caramel Snack Bar

After telling everyone of the prettiness of Black Butterfly's new Snack Bars this summer without showing any pictures, now I've at last had one of these chocolates smuggled over to me, intact and unmelted, from Prescott. And this time it's probably a flavor more after my tastes, the classic Fleur de Sel Caramel.

Now you can see the pretty (even with my lack of photography skills). You see how it's basically a combination of a chocolate bar and a truffle? An approachable twist and a sure temptation. In this bar, the little bubbles are what contain the caramel.

While some salted caramels are subtly salty, this one isn't. This one is salty enough that salt is probably the strongest flavor element of all. I like best to just bite a whole bubble off, so that you burst through the chocolate base and the chocolate shell into this flowy, salty, and sweet caramel. The Snack Bar concept kind of allows shall we say a more reckless approach. I never put a whole truffle in my mouth--yet I don't feel bad to eat one of these bubbles in one bite. And doing so is what allows that complete texture experience.

Besides the salt, the caramel of course also comes in with its pleasant vanilla flavor. While sometimes Black Butterfly's milk chocolate (which comes in at 41% cocoa) tastes sweet to me, here I do taste more of that richness of the higher (for milk chocolate) percentage). The chocolate also amplifies the vanilla flavors.

Possibly the caramel might be a tad too salty for me, yet I've still much enjoyed this chocolate. When you have a flavor that's more to your tastes and you have such a setting as this, it's very easy to just eat the whole bar in one go. Which, as I keep mentioning, is kind of the idea of these Snack Bars. Wholeheartedly approachable and tempting.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

It's Fall

The later part of September was a tad warmer than usual this year. Normally by that point the edge of the heat has come off, but this time we had an earlier cooler spell (as in, less hot spell) followed by one last hot spell before the switch to October brought the sudden onset of Fall.

The nights cool off enough now that it takes a little bit of time for the day to heat enough to actually be hot instead of just comfortable and pleasant. In fact, the nights are suddenly cool enough that I just switched to my winter sheets.

The air tastes different. The baked scent of summer is gone, turned crisp instead. The colors around the Phoenix area don't change much until January, but if you drive even just a little north, you'll find the greens beginning to fade and the leaves beginning to disappear.

The light has changed. It's now dark in the morning when I get up. And the sun is already flirting with the horizon by the time I'm heading home--the nice part about that is that I get to see all the brilliant pink colors while I drive.

These changes have been happening over the last few days, but it was this morning that I felt wrapped up by Fall. I felt cozy and comfortable and happy. I made a second cup of tea. In the morning, I put on my cashmere house sweater (that means that it's mended and not for wearing out but still ridiculously comfy for home use), and by late morning, I had all the windows open to finally let the place air out after the long summer.

I felt wrapped up by all that Fall beckoned. A touch of Halloween perhaps, but mainly the promise of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Turkeys and tablecloths and cookies and pies and family. The holiday season is a good time, a time when we're constantly thinking of ways to bring cheer to the short and dark and (sometimes) cold days.

Thanks be for the beauty of the changing seasons.

Friday, October 5, 2018

La Naya: Juniper & Natural Orange Flavored Milk Chocolate

I have some more orange chocolate for you this week, this time because La Naya just makes chocolate bars look and sound so appealing that I had to try this one despite not being too fond of orange chocolate. And once again, the risk paid off: this chocolate is quite good.

The fact that this Juniper & Natural Orange Flavored bar is also a milk chocolate also seemed a little odd to me: isn't orange paired more often with dark chocolate than with milk? That being said, the citrus smell when I broke the seal on the packaging was refreshing and, despite any hesitation on my part, kind of enticing. Once more, it's a pretty La Naya bar design, geometric and soft at the same time.

The taste surprised me. It didn't taste like orange in the same way that it smelled like orange. Along with the orange, I also tasted strong flavor notes in the milk chocolate. Spices. The effect made the milk chocolate appear deep and complex. The flavors mellowed out somewhat as I approached the end, which was creamier with a zing of orange zest.

I mentioned that I enjoyed Chocolate Organiko's Orange and Pepper bar because it was a different and successfully different interpretation of orange chocolate. The same goes here, except perhaps in an even stronger and more poetic way. I feel like I've never tasted chocolate like this. Such flavors (mainly with the addition of juniper) usually only come in with truffles. That's where people will experiment a little or add the essence of flavor less commonly associated with chocolate. Yet why not have the same freshness in a chocolate bar, as well?

I might add in the description that La Naya provides. "Emotional structure: Easter morning in Vatican, orange fruit, sunlight, imminent victory, juniper." That is absolutely a lovely description of this chocolate. And I don't need to wax poetic about its flavor because the chocolate has already done so itself. It's absolutely fascinating and fresh and intriguing and highly recommended, even if you also hesitate about orange chocolate.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

We Honor Your Memory

There was a time, for several years, when I couldn't watch movies to do with war or anything like that because I was still struck by the very real human experience of tragedy. I was, after some of the reading I did in Holocaust Studies in high school (particularly The Diary of Dawid Sierakowiak) still heartbroken by the fact that bad things happen to real people, not to "the people bad things happen to." It's almost like I was in mourning and couldn't get near anything sad to do with war, etc. because it just brought up anew the pain for these people.

And then, as this maybe started to fade without me realizing it, I kind of started to feel like maybe I didn't want to watch war movies or such because I wanted to watch movies for entertainment and so real tragedy wasn't entertainment.

And now I think I've been easing back in. A Tale of Love and Darkness, which is interesting to see if you're used to seeing Natalie Portman in Star Wars and forget that she was born in Israel. It made me realize how little I know about Israel's (recent) history. Or The Promise with Oscar Isaac; that certainly made me feel ignorant. So by the time I finished Colonia with Emma Watson, I resigned myself to the fact that there are so many countries with so much history that, well, I wouldn't know all of it unless I made world history (especially recent world history) my area of focus (which is not, of course, to say that we shouldn't always strive to know more than we currently know).

Especially with that last film, there was kind of this sense as it ended of the fact that the audience was simply giving acknowledgement to the people who experienced sorrow. This world is filled with darkness. And sometimes films simply allow us to remember people's sorrow or to give voices to the people who were silenced. We don't have to be going in to war films for the horror factor; we can simply experience such films in order to honor the memory of the people portrayed. In doing so, we are acknowledging the fact that every person matters and every person's life is important and significant. Every smile and every tear is precious.

May we never not be saddened by tragedy.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Maria de Buenos Aires

'Tis that time again, the time in which I wander around to the theatre and the ballet and the opera. The first of the season was also part of Arizona Opera's new McDougall RED series. With these, they're going for shows with a slightly different tone or style and putting them in the smaller Herberger Theatre rather than the grand Symphony Hall. 

Even that change means quite a big. While Symphony Hall is so big that you can buy last minute tickets for the opera no problem, Herberger is small enough that seats were getting filled up much sooner. As per usual, I took the very back balcony row, even though this was my first time at Herberger and I wasn't sure how a seat in that row would be. Turns out, though, that this seat was perfectly great. Though the balcony is greatly tiered, it wasn't to the point that you felt like you were going to fall over (like at a big arena), simply that it was tiered so that you could be closer to the stage and with a clearer view than if there were little or no tiering. The small size of the theatre was more comparable to watching a play at the Mesa Arts Center than to watching an elaborate opera or ballet at Symphony Hall.

Indeed, the show itself, Maria de Buenos Aires, was almost more like watching a play than an opera. Celeste Lanuza as El Duende made me think of something like spoken word in the way that she wasn't quite singing but not quite just speaking, either. And while opera tends to be about big shapes and movements that you can see far away (with the main emphasis on sound rather than sight), this show made a little more of movement. It's a tango opera, so of course there was dancing, but also other types of movement that went along to help tell the story. 

And the story? A story of sorrow, the story of a woman who is born from the toying meddling of El Duende to a life of pain. Yet also the story of a woman who feels deeply and, led by a song in her soul, pictures great things. Is it a story of triumph over darkness? No, not really. Triumph hardly seems to describe what the ending felt like: it felt more like taking a breath after struggling to hold it beneath water for a very long time. 

I don't know. I think this opera was more about the feeling of each moment than a particular theme. As you'd expect from a tango opera, it is often deeply moving and sensual and striking and bold and did I mention moving? 

The audience knew going in to expect something different. You could get the vibe in the first few scenes that everyone was kind of trying to get their bearings and figure out what type of a show this was, but by the time Maria (portrayed by Catalina Cuervo) sang "Yo Soy Maria," we were all enthralled in this weird web of red darkness. I don't have the words to describe Catalina Cuervo singing as Maria. She has been in this role over 50 times, and so it would seem that she has entirely embodied the passion and sorrow of this character. She took hold of the whole audience. And when Luis Alejandro Orozco joined her as the Payador, it was . . . like this beautiful passion of love that they were singing. 

While an opera is usually close to three hours, this was only an hour and a half (which is kind of nice for a modern audience because you can just focus in on enjoying rather than getting either antsy or sleepy before the end). Yet it felt like it covered so much that it couldn't have been so short as that. Fascinating and striking. That is what Maria de Buenos Aires was. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

Chocolate Organiko: Orange and Pepper

When I put up the trio of Chocolate Organiko posts a little while ago, I apparently left out the fourth bar, the Orange and Pepper. Fitting, I suppose, that it would be such a tiny bar as this that I would have overlooked.

Orange isn't normally a flavor I reach for in chocolate. The addition of pepper in here, though, begs curiosity. The aroma is of orange. While I suppose there must be plenty of people who like orange chocolate, I'm not wrong to imagine that most people don't care for it, am I? Flavor-wise, orange comes in with a weird, sort of cloying taste when it's inside of chocolate. It just feels odd.

The thing is, though, the addition of pepper here was a great idea. The pepper lessens that mellow, cloying orange flavor and enhances the bright and sparkly, fruity flavor. In this way, you get more of the bouncy, peppery feel of bergamot rather than simply orange.

There is little else to add about the dark chocolate. It's just the neutral base, a standard 70%, neither sweet nor bitter.

Orange still isn't my favorite chocolate flavor combination. Yet if you're going to put the two together, this is the way to go. Rather than wondering who I can give this chocolate away to, I'm finding it pleasant to nibble at. The orange adds sweetness to the chocolate while the pepper adds an extra layer of interest to keep it sparkly and make certain that the flavor is a changing, developing thing rather than simply a stagnant orange in chocolate taste.

Just goes to show how trying something a little different (either from what you'd normally get or from what you're used to seeing) can turn out quite well.