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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Hanging with Giraffes

Walking up to the main area at Out of Africa is often one of the best moments there, particularly on quiet days. You're walking through the corridor between the two safari areas. Sometimes there will be zebras hanging out just on the other side of the fence. Most often, though, you will see either Pilgrim on the right or Kibo on the left. They're the two giraffes and they hang around the fence because the safari buses feed them snacks.

Or sometimes they find their own snacks. On my way out of the park earlier this month, Kibo was reaching his beautiful long neck over the fence to munch away at this brambly crunchy. As in, his neck was just right there next to me. (Although, it can be noted that I have in fact been closer to Kibo before. When feeding him and Pilgrim, I always opt for the "kiss" of putting the celery or leaf or whatever it is in my mouth to hold out to them. And one time, the safari guide brought him inside the bus. That is, she had treats for him inside, so that his neck was literally stretched out in the open space above my lap. Possibly she did this because she recognized frequent visitors and knew we would respect him and not touch him. It's amazing to stare at a giraffe's neck right under your nose.)

Then he would lift his head up to the sky. It had rained a bit that afternoon, so there were bouncy clouds in the sky, making him look all majestic. 

Next time you see a giraffe, don't just say, that's a giraffe. Stare at it and think about what amazing creatures these are. Their thin and long legs, their necks, their ears, their eyes, their mouths, their colors, their patterns. 

Out of Africa is like a little gift. Getting to see these animals in all their glory, happy and content and gorgeous right before your eyes.

Monday, September 24, 2018

"Do I Have to Take a Tour?"

I have, for roughly the past year, been giving and/or observing the giving of tours in two quite different places. One of the most common threads? People's reluctance to in fact take a guided tour.

Maybe the word "tour" is intimidating to people. Maybe it reminds people of school or trying to stay on good behavior. And it is in our nature to dislike barriers or constraints, so perhaps the mere mention of a tour is, subconsciously, a threat to our sense of freedom.

Sure, sometimes there are practical reasons for reluctance. People who are short on time. People with children who are concerned that their children won't have the attention span for a tour. People who are concerned about their own attention spans. Sometimes, though, I think that people simply think they won't get anything out of a tour that they wouldn't be able to get on their own.

And when people who feel this way end up on a tour after all, they are pretty much always pleasantly surprised. They're fascinated by the things they learn, maybe even entertained by their guide's delivery or style. Either way, they feel like the time spent on the tour was spent well and they walk away with something to talk about, something that is in fact greater than what they would have had from just walking around on their own.

I admit that I'm probably not always one to seek out a guided tour, either. If I go to a place that has optional tours starting on the hour or something like that, I'll probably skip it. Yet if I go to a place where you simply end up on a tour by the very nature of visiting (like Hearst Castle, for instance), I end up well-pleased at how I was able to learn while also observing. Think about it: if you're reading signs or guidebooks, you're not able to look around while you're doing that reading. And if you're going somewhere with a group (which most people do), then either you feel like you're ignoring your group by reading everything or you feel like it's unnecessary to read everything because it would be better to just walk and talk with your group. But if you're all listening to a tour guide, then you're taking part together and receiving the information together and also having a conversation together (since most tours are small groups where the guide encourages a conversational style instead of just giving you a lecture).

Instead of saying, "Do I have to take a tour?" maybe we should be saying, "Are there any tours available?"

Friday, September 21, 2018

Eclipse Chocolate: Sea Salt Nib

Well, good thing I didn't pick up much chocolate while I was in California. I've still been kind of off schedule on posts, which means that chocolate posts can really start piling up.

While I didn't visit Eclipse Chocolate itself, I did get one of their bars from Rust General Store in Old Town San Diego. Now, Eclipse Chocolate, unless something has changed, doesn't make their own chocolate. That is, they don't make it from the bean; they make flavored chocolates and bars from the couverture.

Unfortunately, this chocolate seems a little old. It's a little hard and less quick to melt. Unless I'm reading the blurry best by date wrong (which is possible), it, ah, was pretty close to that date when I bought it. Kind of a shame and kind of odd given that Eclipse is in San Diego, so you'd think that Rust would be able to buy from them more often rather than buying less often, only to have unwanted stock siting on shelves overly long. Then again, I guess it's hard to guess about customers' wants, anyways. You think that they'll want to buy chocolate but then all they buy is candy, perhaps.

Tangent over. This particular bar is the Sea Salt Nib, which is "dark chocolate flecked with lavender herbed sea salt and candied cocoa nib." It's a 55% cocoa. Sometimes, yes, I do get tired of all the salted chocolate. I like salt, but I just get tired of the combination. This bar offers something unique, though.

The nibs work well with the salt because when you crunch on them, it feels like it's the salt that you're crunching on. Obviously, though, that isn't the case, because the salty level would be much higher, much too high, if the salt were so greatly crunchy. So with these two elements being there together, the crunch of the nibs is able to highlight the saltiness while also allowing the salt to remain at the proper proportion.

The chocolate is on the sweeter side of dark chocolate, since it is, after all, only a 55%. Not too much, though, just enough to keep the chocolate casual and focused on flavor combinations rather than simply chocolate flavors.

And the lavender? Well, if the label didn't say lavender, I don't think that I would know that there is lavender. I don't know if this is because I'm fairly immune to lavender as both a scent and a flavor. I use a lot of lavender scents at home and the black tea that I usually drink in the mornings has lavender in it. So it might be that I just don't notice it much unless it's strong. Once I'm looking for it, I imagine that I can detect a little bit of that peppery flavor in here, but I'm not certain. Even if it isn't strong with lavender, though, the salt truly is excellent.

The lavender element sounded like it would be the one to push things over the edge here, yet it was the addition of the nibs that made this bar unique. The nibs are what ended up making it stand out and what kept my interest even when other salted chocolates start to leave me bored after a while.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When the Desert Rains

When the desert rains, the land looks happy.

Sometimes it rains in a drizzle--and the plants, busy sucking up the water to store for the long months ahead, look greener than ever under the gray clouds.

Sometimes it rains in a monsoon--and the lightning bolts, the grand masters of drama, crash across the horizon like veins on a pair of hands.

The moisture doesn't make the earth smell like dirt or mud, or bland like wet grass. Instead, the rain brings out all the unique scents of the plants. And so it is that the smell of desert rain is unlike any other smell. It's like the smell of gratitude, from the plants and towards the water. It makes you feel so much more connected to the cycles of the land, so much more aware of what something like rain means to the health the earth.

When the desert rains, the land is happy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Antique or Vintage Finds?

"Vintage" is the cool term. "Antique" is the less approachable term, the one that evokes either expense or undesirable relics left in someone's attic over the decades. At least, that's what I seem to observe. To me, though, vintage means newer items, from the fifties and up. Forties and thirties are kind of in that in-between time where I'm not sure where to include them. Antiques are simply older than that. So when I think of vintage, I think of trinket jewelry and felted wool hats and things like that--so usually things to wear. When I think of antiques, I think of lasting items. The vintage things have only lasted a few decades if that, so whether or not they will last much longer is not always certain. But the antiques, they've made it and they will make it. Beautiful wood pieces, rich in their natural color and detailed in their design. Cameos carved of shell. Silver utensils and serving dishes. Etc.

And when I think of repurposing things, I have a different perspective than seems to be most popular at the moment.

I keep an antique serving dish to hold my chalk eraser and a little silver cup that holds the chalk itself. A Victorian biscuit jar I use to hold tea bags (since I don't use many tea bags, mainly just loose tea, I wanted a separate and neat place for the tea bags that I do end up having around). A brass toothbrush holder (at least, I think that's what it is) I use to hold my eyeliner while my makeup brushes I keep in a little crystal vase.

But things that are still useful as what they are? I keep them that way. Silverware. Hats. Pictures. Wooden tables and shelves (including my two beloved whatnot shelves) (remember, they need no paint: wood is beautiful). And the serving dishes that don't end up holding chalk or perfume or whatever else can also still hold food.

I'm of the perspective that if there are things that still exist that are nice, why make new things? If I can buy a nice antique coffee table, why buy a newly made one? If that silverware is still useful as silverware, why turn it into something else?

It's cool to be all "vintage style." But when I look around at my things, I'm amazed at how many antiques I keep around me and just use as part of my day. I don't really do the vintage thing. I just look for quality pieces that I like that I know will last, things that lasted someone else's lifetime and will last my lifetime and will last someone else's lifetime once I'm gone.

I guess that's why I think of vintage as little bits of clothing, like a silk scarf or a pair or silver earrings, that I add to an outfit and antiques as the things on which I build my home's style.

Antique versus vintage--what do the words mean to you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Star Trek Feel

I always said I would get around to watching the rest of the Star Trek series eventually. I grew up with The Next Generation, watched the original series in college, and got to Voyager last year. Now I've finally started in on Deep Space Nine.

Each new one can take some time to get used to and settle into. I'm not quite settled in yet. And still, from the beginning, I had that feeling of comfort and familiarity.

The style of not just the uniforms but the clothing in general. The types of characters (in a good way and a bad way). The ships. The stars. The techie/sciencey talk. The style of the aliens. And the music. Not the same music but the same type of music that I know. Maybe it was the music that made it feel so familiar.

It's weird. I always said I'm not a huge Star Trek fan . . . but that I do like it because I grew up with it. And it's so true. It's almost like I reluctantly find comfort in it, the way you turn to your favorite junk food that you usually don't buy but have to cave in and get sometimes.

I don't . . . like everything about Star Trek. And yet that isn't enough to keep me away. It isn't enough to keep me from getting excited to do some more exploring. Which in itself says something about the franchise, about the unique world that it established. It's a created world like that of a fantasy story, something tangible and recognizable and distinguishable from other worlds.

Trekking through stars, endlessly exploring.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Rust General Store: Rum Candies

While in the Historic Old Town District of San Diego, one of the places that I like to visit is Rust General Store. They sell soap and things and food products like spices and tea and candy and chocolate. I felt like there was less chocolate this time than before, but I think it was the same. It just wasn't new to me anymore. Still, one can't pass up opportunities to buy chocolate that one doesn't always come across, so I picked up another bar from Eclipse Chocolate and some of Rust's chocolate candies.

Last time I was there, I chose the Rose Petal Savories. This time I switched from girly to the perhaps more masculine option of Rum. And, you know, it's candy, so why not go for something reckless?

These are little round pieces of shiny chocolate like before, except that these came in a small rectangular container versus the larger pouch from last time. I did find a surprise when I attacked the first one: I found a sugary coating inside the chocolate that held a liquid inside. I realized I'd been expecting for the rum element to just be blended in with the chocolate.

Besides the fact that I hadn't expected anything liquid, I also found this odd because usually I associate the liquid alcohol-flavored chocolates with the ones that you need to be 21 and over to purchase. There were, however, no such restrictions for this one. This liquid tastes alcohol-y to me, but must not really be much, after all. Maybe they just overdosed the vanilla extract on purpose, eh? (And I can't look at the ingredients list for help because there is in fact no ingredients list.)

The overall taste is definitely better than that of the aforementioned 21 and over chocolate candies (the ones that are usually shaped like little bottles). The alcohol element in those just tastes weird to me and the chocolate is ridiculously cheap. This chocolate is better. It's more of what I want to call average chocolate but is in fact a little above average (average chocolate, unfortunately, means bad chocolate). The sugary coating throws me off a bit, though it does help to give that sweet rum effect.

Probably I personally preferred the Rose Petal Savories. And sure, a handmade rum truffle would beat these easy. Yet they're nice little nibbles, something to share as dessert perhaps.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

I Was Just One

I was just one, solitary. 

Looking out to the horizon.

And then I met you--and we were two.

That's when the sun set on the past and the future began.