Saturday, October 17, 2020

Chuao: Oh My S'mores

Fall is in the air, isn't it? And with it comes a transitioning of outdoor space. Depending on where you live, this time of year means spending either less or more time outdoors. Either it is finally cool enough to be out or just out to be too cold. Either way, we are on the cusp. Just the time for a chocolate that reflects on time spent outdoors. Maybe it's a summertime camping trip or an autumnal bonfire that most conjures up for you toasted marshmallows and s'mores. Whether you're at the end or the beginning of your own s'more season, today's Oh My S'mores bar from Chuao celebrates the nostalgia.

The images of marshmallows and dripping chocolate and graham crackers don't overpromise: there are in fact whole marshmallows, albeit mini ones, to accompany the graham cracker pieces. So the aroma when you break the seal is quite welcoming: rich confection milk chocolate and deep vanilla. The mini marshmallows are visible scattered on the back of the bar, while various adjectives and exclamations decorate the squares on the front. Really, though, I can't see breaking this one into squares: it's meant for biting into.

The graham crackers are so plenteous in the chocolate that they create a texture that is rough and crumbly rather than the smoothness that chocolate normally has. They are finely ground, small pieces. So the rough texture is pleasant, bringing to mind eating an especially chocolatey cookie. It's all rather saltier than I would have expected (that is, I wasn't expecting any saltiness at all), but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It is also not as sweet as I had expected.

Partly that would be because this is 41% milk chocolate, so it's nice and steady and not overly greasy or milky or . . . sweet. I buy Chauo infrequently enough that I can never immediately call to mind what either their standard milk or dark chocolate tastes like. This milk chocolate is quite pleasant (this also reminds me that when I had Chauo milk chocolate hot chocolate versus dark I preferred the milk chocolate). 

With the marshmallows, you get the sweet, familiar flavor along with some softer texture. For such big blobs (in comparison to the thickness of a chocolate bar), they blend in surprisingly well. I thought that they might stand out as an awkward garnish or that it would simply feel like eating marshmallows rather than eating chocolate with marshmallows in it. The effect was the latter, though: the three elements of marshmallow, chocolate, and graham cracker are all in balance. Granted, of course, how much marshmallow you get will vary with each bite since they're centered and slightly away from the edges. But that's just encouragement to take bigger bites, eh?

And that sums it up, I suppose. This is a casual, fun, nostalgic bar of chocolate. It's nicely done and the ingredients are of enough quality that it passes my test. So I recommend it for the times when you haven't lost control over your taste buds but you do need a sweet chocolate to tear into--perhaps now? 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

What Are You Listening to?

You see, back in the Pandora days, I thought that I wasn't very interested in Skillet. But I guess tastes change and they also have new music ten years later that they didn't have back then. So I've been listening to their two latest albums a lot lately, but I also like to listen to the concert they did with Lacey Sturm because, you know, Lacey is great. 

In particular, I'm enjoying that performance of "Awake and Alive" (here's the link), which is not in fact on the albums I've been listening to and so it would have been around back in those Pandora days. Those lyrics "Right here, right now . . . I know what I believe inside, I'm awake and I'm alive." Death screams at the door as soon as we are born, and yet we live, we live because we are meant to be still alive, alive to the moment right here and right now in front of us. "In the dark . . . I feel you breathe into me, forever hold this heart that I will give to you, forever I will live for you." There is only One worth living for, only one capable of giving life, all else fails. Where does my strength come from? Where does my hope come from? 

While I have no desire to go to a Skillet concert (one of the reasons why I like going to the opera is because everyone sits nicely in their seats), I do like listening to music like this because I like such positive lyrics. I love all of the light in the dark, the fervent reaching upwards to the light out of black night. As I've said before, I hear the tone of a song more than its genre (although there are definitely genres I don't like, I won't pretend otherwise). So sometimes I find "loud" music like this more calming and strengthening than "quiet" music because it has more hope in it. Oh, yes, and side note, I also identify with how Lacey moves her hands and arms when she sings. 

To provide a second option from a different genre, though, I recently found Seacoast Worship's "You Are Here" (here's the Spotify link), which makes a good companion song to "Awake and Alive." Compare these lyrics: "Holding me when I feel hopeless, only you restore my soul." Or: "You are my comfort, you are my shelter, you are here, healing and power." To stand right here right now because of who walks beside me. Right here, right now. 

We are alive today for a reason. Yesterday has passed away and tomorrow has not yet come. We are right here, right now, in this moment, strong and capable in this moment. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company: Pumpkin Spice Latte Truffle

I regret to inform you that I have only had a pumpkin spice latte once. It was several years ago. I was meeting a friend at Starbucks. Being that I don't really go there much, I thought, oh, I'll just get that, people like those (this was before the psl craze was as big as it is today, but still it was around). The first sip scared me and I tried, I did try, but I couldn't drink probably even a third of it. It just tasted like weird-tasting, artificial fright to me. Sacrilege, I know. 

So it was perhaps funny that I jumped on the Pumpkin Spice Latte Truffle bar from the Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Company (hey, this is the third time I've reviewed this company with the trio of chocolates in its name, fancy that). But as I mentioned with the Halloween candy, I do get excited for seasonal chocolate products to review, considering that there are generally so few (or companies might put out the same thing every year, which is fine but doesn't give me anything new to review). It was for sale at Michael's, by the way, and I haven't seen it anywhere else.

I'm sounding like a broken record, but I somehow managed to melt this chocolate bar, too, so that's why there is no picture of it. Probably a safe guess that it would have looked the same as CCCC's other two bars did, though. This time I can solidly way that I'm favoring the packaging. The solid white base with the fall-colored band and the pumpkin and dripping latte hit that heartwarming, comforting vibe. While I may not go for the pumpkin spice lattes, I do often put a fall twist on some hot chocolate at home. (I've said it many times, but here's my hot chocolate recipe: 3/4-1 cup milk/non-milk, 1-2 tsp. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. honey/sugar, and as you wish also include cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cardamom, mint, rose, or whatever else you feel like adding at the moment.)

Back to the chocolate bar. The label says that "pumpkin and espresso are infused into a truffle center and are complemented by natural pumpkin pie spices." The truffle center is pretty much akin to the caramel that was in the Waffle Cone Caramel bar. So that makes this is a fairly similar piece to the Pumpkin Spice Caramel from Ghirardelli. I melted this bar so strangely that almost the entire top four squares melted down over the bottom four squares; this has never happened to me before. I suppose it must have been upright in my purse and it melted there in such fashion. I almost wanted to include a picture just because it was so ridiculous. So my perception of thickness and such is going to be a little off--but that's why I'm glad I've had a caramel chocolate bar from this company before. All indications seem to be that the physical aspect of this one was basically the same as in the Waffle Cone Caramel.

Biting in quickly brings up the familiar spices. Sometimes I imagined more cinnamon and ginger in here than in Ghirardelli's take, but I'm not entirely sure. Again, it's a little hard to tell proportions because of the melting, but there seems to be more pumpkin spice flavor in general here than with Ghirardelli. Possibly more of a pumpkin flavor, too. (Among the ingredients are coffee extract, pumpkin, cinnamon, allspices, nutmeg, ginger, mace, and cloves.) The inclusion of espresso is different, but for once what is normally a strong flavor fades into the background of all the fall spices. Sometimes I taste it; other times I forget it's there. This is fairly accurate for a pumpkin spice latte, though, right? There are so many flavors that coffee doesn't come into the foreground. 

The caramel is a little thicker than Ghirardelli's, but it's fine, also. It adds sweetness and texture. While Ghirardelli's milk chocolate is also very sweet, I do prefer it to this one. (Once more, the ingredients list both milk chocolate and white chocolate--maybe if they just went for a full milk chocolate instead of a blend that would be better?) That's the biggest difference between these two interpretations for me. I may very well like the approach to the spices more here, but I prefer Ghirardelli's chocolate. So it's difficult to compare them. I guess the gist of it is, if you enjoy fall flavors and pumpkin spice, they're both worth buying. I think I do get less of that weird, somewhat artificial taste that normally bothers me with pumpkin spice in this bar. That means that what I've said in the past holds true again: CCCC does well with flavors. That is not a given, even for bigger, more well-known companies. That's why I continue to buy their chocolate when I come across it: I have hope that they'll present me with something pleasant. Oh, yes, and I definitely prefer this Pumpkin Spice Latte Truffle Milk Chocolate to the one pumpkin spice latte I have had.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Care to Travel to Batuu?

While I don't necessarily read a lot of travel guides (or any?), I do like to read about local history and the stories and factoids about places. Galaxy's Edge (or Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu) in Disneyland (or WDW, if you're East Coast) I have described as being something like the Petrified Forest (for the petrified wood and the magical quality) and Santa Fe (for the little-town-to-wander-through feeling). It is a real place in my mind. I mean, it is physically a real place. But it's so easy to by into the fantasy of it, to believe that you are truly at Black Spire Outpost on the planet of Batuu. 

So if I like reading books about places and I like Batuu, then how about an in-universe guide book to the planet? The Traveler's Guide to Batuu is labeled as being written by Eloc Throno (in our world, it's actually written by Cole Horton), and the title is in both our alphabet and Aurebesh. While the look of the book is cool, I wasn't immediately in. I didn't feel like I needed a list of the menu at Oga's Cantina or the shops in the Marketplace. I already know those things and can view them at the Disneyland website/app. I'm quite glad that I went for it despite my misgivings, though. 

This book isn't as contrived as I had anticipated. Yes, it lists drinks at Oga's and food at Docking Bay 7. And many of us already know some of the Easter egg backstories that this book explains. Things like the Wishing Tree or the blaster marks in Oga's from Thrawn. But there were some new things in here, too. More backstories in the merchants, for instance--even an explanation of why the cool woodcarving vendor at the end of the Marketplace is never open. So for the new tidbits and even for the ones we had already heard, it was fun to hear these backstories told in the same style that they would be in a guidebook. Not only does it make for a handy trivia guide so you can easily remember facts to share with your friends next time you're all in Batuu together, it also just adds to the feeling of this being a real place.

As I read, I felt like I was walking among the spires again. Things that the author describes I could recall seeing--or sometimes wonder why I hadn't paid much attention to them before. I kept revisiting it all. Black Spire Outpost is beautiful and full of detail. This book celebrates all that. It does take a couple too many tangents to describe ships and the First Order and things like that that we already have plenty of info about in the movie visual guides. I could have done without that content; it seemed like it was only there to bulk out the book. Otherwise, though, I had great fun, and would recommend this little piece for fellow fans of Black Spire Outpost. 

May the spires keep you. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Dragons in the House

Sylvia has been wanting me to put up her favorite Bible verse, Psalm 148:7. Gotta love the King James Version for still using the word "dragon." (And if you find that this word delegitimizes the Bible, look up "dragon" in a pre-1950's dictionary. It only became a fantasy-only word in the last few decades. Which is why the King James Version, while my favorite in a lot of ways, is also fairly out of date as far as diction, and this is of course why they continue to make new Bible translations with more modern vocabulary.)

The little wooden plaque is from Michael's; it was less than two dollars after tax and it comes with the little hanging string, so it's a good buy for random projects like this. I liked that it was wood so that I could just add the painted text without needing to also paint the whole background. Sylvia seemed pleased with how it turned out.

Right now, it just hangs with Sylvia's lights. I did want it on the wall because it would also go well with the artwork I have there, but I'm not sure if I have the right space for it. The art is from Carolyn Schmitz of Prescott. She does these wonderful pieces of animals wearing jewelry and hats composed of desert elements: cactus pads, mesquite pods, devil's claw, rattlesnake rattles, scorpions, etc. Beautiful and silly at the same time. Classy whimsy, if you will. Perfect for someone who sticks up Bible verses about dragons above her bearded dragon's house. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Ghirardelli: Fall Assortment

Winding up my trio of Halloween chocolate candies is a set that is not specifically Halloween but simply fall-themed. Ghirardelli squares are a sturdy standby for any time of year, and usually any seasonal approach that Ghirardelli does is light. There are three flavors in here, two which are standard (Caramel and Fudge Caramel) and only one seasonal (Pumpkin Spice Caramel). Pumpkin Spice can of course take you all the way from September through November.

On one hand, this would also seem not to be a Halloween bag because who would want to give away Ghirardelli squares or even put them in your Halloween candy bowl--they're too expensive, right? But they fall right in between the prices of the other two. So yes, this is more expensive than a bag of KitKats, but still at a standard price for its genre, shall we say. If you use the Nutrition Facts to estimate, there should be 14 squares in here, which would be 34 cents each; again, I don't know if I somehow miscounted out of daftness, but I only counted 13, which would be 36 each (I paid about $4.79 for the bag). So if you're doing maybe a mini trick-or-treating event just for your family or keeping them in your candy bowl, the price isn't unreasonable.

This is the least decorated bag of the three. A rich brown color and some leaves, pumpkins, and acorns in the corners make up the whole of the theming, and there is nothing on the individual wrappers. While this is consistent with Ghirardelli's usual style, I do wish they had at least decorated the Pumpkin Spice Caramel wrappers differently. Maybe a couple pumpkins on there? Or at least a different color to distinguish them from the Fudge Caramels.

Those Fudge Caramels were the ones I started with. It's milk chocolate filled with caramel that tastes more strongly of vanilla than you might normally get in a caramel. It's a sweet, confection treat. The plain Caramel has more of a standard caramel flavor. Ghirardelli's caramel is soft but also not quite free-flowing or liquid; it's a nice balance between the two approaches. It's good, I say with a shrug.

What we're really all here for is the Pumpkin Spice Caramel. If they weren't going to do other fall flavors, as well (maybe apple cider), they could have just made the whole bag Pumpkin Spice. That's what people are after, anyway. That is, I'm after it because it's the seasonal flavor. Normally I'm not too much into the pumpkin spice craze.

There is already a pumpkin spice aroma even before biting in. When you do, you'll find a caramel base pretty much the same as the regular one, except that is infused with that distinctive pumpkin spice flavor. I taste cloves and cinnamon and ginger and maybe cardamom--the usual suspects. It's nice. As I've alluded to before, these are some of the same pieces you would use for chai tea and I do much enjoy a good chai. It's all nice and warm and sweet. In fact, the sweetness of the milk chocolate helps to ground the spices in the way that sugar and milk would in a chai latte. The caramel makes for a good base, as well.

While pumpkin spice by definition does not necessitate the inclusion of pumpkin, there is something of a taste in here of what comes across to me as artificial pumpkin flavor--whether or not that is what it actually is. If you are one with the pumpkin spice, this might just taste like fresh pumpkin pie to you. To me, it's just a little off. So we have another of those instances where you'll know best if this chocolate is for you. It's a nice approach to pumpkin spice; I'm enjoying it. But if someone had a candy bowl of these three flavors, I'd probably choose one of the other caramels and leave the pumpkin for others. Not a disappointment; just a preference. The disappointment here is that there is only one fall flavor in this assortment, but it is otherwise a pleasant bag of chocolates. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

OCHO: Trick or Treat Variety Pack

For day two of my three day Halloween chocolate spree, I have the Trick or Treat Variety Pack from OCHO. Like Tony's Chocolonely, OCHO has also made Easter egg candies, which I looked at last year. I expressed some disappointment that they were organic but not fair trade. But this bag says that they are fair trade, and OCHO's website lists recent fair trade certification. So it's possible that either their sources have recently received certification (not all fair trade cocoa is certified as such) or that they have been transitioning to fair trade certified sources. Either way, again, I'm just glad that it's part of the conversation and part of what more companies are trying to be aware of, even when it comes to candy.

And while the Tony's Chocolonely bag was from Natural Grocer's, you can get OCHO at Target. So this is the option that more people will come across because it's safe to say that more people shop at Target than at Natural Grocer's. While the bag says it has 22 pieces, I counted 19. Maybe I just can't count? This bag was about $8. So that's 36 cents each if there were 22 pieces, and 42 cents each for the 19 pieces that I actually got. Not as low as the Tony's per piece price, but still pretty standard for the price you'd pay for an individual piece of fair trade chocolate. 

The bag has a little more of a clip art look. OCHO seems to be still a pretty small company, despite their increasing availability in store, so I guess this is fine. and it's still a fun, Halloween look. Again, I like that these are happy jack-o-lanterns rather than spooky ones. It would be nice to have some pumpkins on the individual wrappers, too, though. While the yellow and orange fit in with a Halloween color scheme, the blue doesn't and the white is the most prevalent color. So they don't look very festive. Granted, most of the Halloween candy that's for sale isn't in special holiday wrappers--and many of the bags that hold the small pieces aren't even decorated at all, either. So this isn't necessarily a complaint, just something it would be possible to improve on. Especially since when you see a Snickers wrapper, you get excited about candy--but when you see an "alternative candy" wrapper, you see "alternative candy." So having a festive holiday look can really give the alternative options a visual boost.

I do apologize for the lack of a picture of the candies themselves. I didn't go in to the store to look for chocolate, so I completely forgot that these were in the car when I got off at one more stop. And one more stop in a hot car is all it takes to melt chocolate (although the Ghirardelli made it out unmelted, so I'm not sure what the difference was there). I didn't want to be more wasteful in buying a second bag, so we'll just imagine that the candies looked as nice unmelted as they do in the pictures on the bag.

There are three flavors in here: Peanut Butter, Caramel, and Coconut. Or Reese's, Milky Way, and Mounds, if you like. The familiarity is good.

I've talked about the Peanut Butter before, though it was in Easter egg shape then. The peanut butter filling is alright; it has plenty of salt to make it akin to the Reese's Cups we all grew up with. But there is a certain soft texture in it that blends with the flavor that isn't favorable. There are other Reese's Cup alternatives that are better--but this one is fine. It's a nice bite of peanut butter chocolate candy. 

The Caramel is in the chewy range. Not only is it a good sub for caramel chocolates but also for those with nougat. The Milky Way comparison really does work, even without nougat. There is a lot of vanilla flavor in here and plenty of chocolate compared with a Snickers or Milky Way. I really enjoy this one, and would definitely reach for it when I'm craving a chocolate candy bar. 

I ate one of the Coconut candies because I'm self-sacrificing like that. I've never had a Mounds or Almond Joy because you know I, being not overly fond of the flavor, usually avoid coconut. I don't know, maybe I'm starting to get over it. It's chewy, creamy coconut filling. While I can't say for sure, I do believe there is likely much more chocolate here than in a Mounds bar. So if you're going to have a coconut chocolate candy, this one's pretty good. 

Overall, this set was better than I had been expecting. Though the peanut butter chocolate is what I associate most with OCHO, I don't believe it's their strongest flavor. So the Caramel and even the Coconut helped lift my esteem of the brand. These are exactly what they're marketed as: fun size, organic chocolate candies. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Tony's Chocolonely: Halloween Tiny Tony's Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt

Because I have collected more fall products than I'd anticipated, I'll be ringing in October with a trio of Halloween chocolate candy bags covered in the next three days instead of three weeks. I'm not overly fond of Halloween, but I do like dressing up and I like candy and I'm always after seasonal chocolate products to review. So the increasing availability of seasonal products around this time of year can get even me excited. 

Tony's Chocolonely has certainly been showing up for the candy holidays. They make the Chocolate Eggs for Easter (this has turned out to be one of my most-viewed reviews--perhaps because there is indeed demand for such a product?) and now they have an option for Halloween, too. The thing is, I don't necessarily think it's sustainable to have all Halloween candy be fair trade chocolate. For me, part of the idea of fair trade cocoa is consuming less cocoa (I am aware that this can sound hypocritical coming from a chocolate blogger). So if I were handing out candy, no, I wouldn't be handing these out--and not just because the bag of 27 pieces is about $9. But if you knew you were only going to be handing out a small amount of candy or if you were just having them at home for your own circle of friends and family, then this works.

Philosophy aside, let's get back to the product. Of the three brands of Halloween chocolate I've had so far (I don't think there'll be anymore, but you never know what else you find), this was the only one that had an accurate count. The bag says that there are 27 pieces inside and there are 27 pieces inside. That comes out to 33 cents each, which is also the best value of the three options. I'm not going to start counting grams, but they're decent-sized chocolates, too.

The bag is pretty cute. A standard Halloween orange comes with a pattern of little skeletons and brooms and ghosts and jack-o-lanterns. Again, being that I'm not big on Halloween, I prefer this cute, goofy look to anything truly spooky. It's neutral, too. It can be the candy you buy for your kids or it can be for adults--the packaging doesn't lean too much in one direction or the other.

It's a paper bag, too, which is kind of cool. The individual wrappers are "recyclable plastic;" while maybe we should give them some credit for trying, the fact is that probably not a single one of these will in fact get recycled--even if someone wanted to, finding the right place to send them would be an issue. 

All three of these companies kept their standard packaging for the small wrappers. But I do like the Tony's look best of the three. They already make these Tiny Tony's as part of their product line, and the Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt is already orange (the milk chocolates are red and the dark chocolates are blue, neither of which would look very Halloween--perhaps they'll bring out the milks for Christmas, though?). The bright orange wrappers have a fitting Halloween look. These are the only individual wrappers of the three brands to not include the ingredients list on them, but there is a link to their website to view that info. 

I've never had any of the Tiny Tony's before. They're pretty cute. It's just one little link on a circular piece of chocolate. The chains (which are part of their message/goal about ending slavery, particularly child slavery, in the cocoa industry) look like they're a Halloween design. Again, they just used a product they already make, but the look is great for the season. And it's a great way to link the season with their message. "Hey, did you know that these grotesque chains don't belong to a Halloween monster, they represent the huge issue of child slavery?" (Now I'm picturing someone on the street passing them out as part of a campaign . . . . )

As I mentioned, these candies are the Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt. I've covered it before, both the whole bar and in the Easter eggs. Probably it is most favorable in this form, though that may just be my own bias (the large Tony's bars are so big that they put me off). The chocolate is sweet, nice enough in small doses like this. Lots of caramel and vanilla flavor to it. The caramel itself comes in those little small crunchy bits, along with some big chunks of sea salt. I definitely feel like there is more prevalent salt in here than there was in the bar, though that could just be my memory being fallible. These are big hits of sea salt.

You know, the price tag may be higher on these, but you're paying for more than just fair trade. Not only are these candies possibly slightly bigger than some of the fun size chocolate candies (just a guess), but they also have more chocolate. This is solid milk chocolate except for the sprinkles of salt and crunchy caramel. While Tony's milk chocolate doesn't top my list for milk chocolates, it is certainly better than what probably all of the standard chocolate candy brands make. So the value here is pretty decent.

I started with Tony's because it was the first of the three bags I came across. I don't want to peak too soon, but I definitely score it the highest of the three based on value, quality, and visual appeal. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Repeating Tolkien

Did any of you have braces? Do you remember those long visits sitting in the chair while they worked in your mouth? Maybe now people pass the time with earbuds, but earbuds were just barely starting to become a thing when I was in the orthodontist's chair. So I used to pass the time by reciting Tolkien verses in my head.

The Lord of the Rings is full of verses. I had memorized most of the ones in the first book, which definitely has the greatest number of them. The one about Amroth and Nimrodel was a favorite: its simple structure made it easy. Beren and Luthien was quite beautiful, though the stanzas were a bit more complicated. Earendil was rough. Four pages of long stanzas, plus more complicated words (I didn't even know how to pronounce habergeon, so that made it more difficult to memorize). 

Now I just remember snatches, specific lines. And some of the shorter pieces, like the verses about the Ring. It makes me rather sad to know that I spent all that time memorizing and now have forgotten most of it--though I'm sure I would have a head start of familiarity of I did begin anew.

And you know, I rather miss it. My mind was young and eager that I would memorize words just for the fun of it. Maybe it's time I started stretching my mind again, whether it's to memorize Tolkien or other things, too. It would perhaps be nice in quiet, waiting moments to have some words to repeat in my head to pass the time. 

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Compartes: Apple Pie White Chocolate

While I gave a less than stellar review of the Superfood Dark Chocolate from Compartes back in August, I decided to look at another Compartes bar for three reasons. One, this Apple Pie White Chocolate represents the second style of chocolate bars, the ones with sugary sweet things, that Compartes makes. Two, I do enjoy trying white chocolate. And three, I thought Apple Pie sounded like a good way to transition into the seasonal, fall offerings (there are so many this year that even with my stricter standards, I already have four of them to share). (Actually there were four reasons, not three. The fourth reason was that it was on sale. Now you know.)

Again, nothing on here says anything about this being fair trade cocoa butter, so I'll probably be staying away from Compartes after this. I just really wanted a look at the other side of their chocolate styles. Visually, I prefer the plainer look of this packaging. The chocolate bar is in the same mold and the wrapper is the same, but the card box has just a simple geometric pattern to it in neutral colors. It's more to my style. Even though an Apple Pie White Chocolate sounds a bit eccentric, the simpler approach to packaging implies that the flavors will be approached tastefully.

And you know, the ingredients are pretty good for such a product. Things like sugar, apples, cinnamon, brown sugar, flour, honey, whole grain rolled oats, butter, baking soda, and salt accompany the usual white chocolate ingredients. Whole ingredients like these rather than a pile of artificial flavorings and colors are definitely preferable, even if none of it is organic. 

The front of the bar allows you to see some darker shapes beneath the white surface. It's a fun teaser. But it's the back that really shows all the chunks of pie sticking out. Exciting. Except that I would describe the aroma as sickly sweet white chocolate--with cinnamon. Maybe I've just been spoiled with the fantastically unique and rich white chocolate from Zak's; perhaps I ought to buy a Green & Black's white chocolate one of these days just to remind myself of a what a good, basic white chocolate is like. 

On my first bite, I found some dried apple. Not exactly the chunks of apple pie I was anticipating. Then I did get more of a cookie crunch, which I supposed was the pie crust element; this came with cinnamon flavor. Each bite does vary greatly on what it contains. That's always to be expected when something is sprinkled into chocolate, but the case is even more so here because there are different types of sprinkles. The description makes a distinction between crust and streusel, in addition to the apples. 

So sometimes there are crispy crunches. Sometimes there are dried apples. Sometimes it's more like cinnamon clusters, which I suppose would be the streusel. Cinnamon is the strongest added flavor: the apples give more texture than flavor, and dried fruit texture isn't exactly something I associate with apple pie. On my first approach to this chocolate, I had to keep eating away at it just to understand what was going on with the different elements and to make sure I wasn't missing anything. But I wouldn't generally want to eat much of it at a time: the white chocolate is extremely sweet and buttery. 

Often when I have a sweeter chocolate bar, like a milk chocolate or something like that, I eat it much quicker than normal. But this one is too much for me. If this were my only experience with white chocolate, I would understand why it isn't very popular. With that being said, this bar isn't overall bad (not amazing either, but not bad). It isn't terribly like eating apple pie, but the addition of cinnamon in white chocolate is pleasant. I find I enjoy it more with a cup of tea to balance it out. Or if you're crafty like that, I suppose it might make a nice dessert topping.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Telling Stories

 I sat and told myself a story,

until the stories became all I saw.

Then you came and sat beside me,

and you became my story.

Reality once trickled away into pages to hide.

Now reality dances in the air around me. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Double Silver Latte Bar

Take the Coffee Break Bar from Zak's Chocolate and take their Belize White Chocolate and put them together and what do you get? The Double Silver Latte Bar. Two favorites in one must surely mean a third favorite, right? 

The Coffee Break Bar, you'll recall, is a 55% dark chocolate that also contains coffee (from Bergie's) and milk. And the White Chocolate has a greater cocoa flavor than is generally found in white chocolate while still also maintaining that intense creaminess. In this Latte Bar, the two chocolate bars are literally layered on top of each other. I only rarely get to expound on how much I love layering different type of chocolates because it is done so rarely. Whether it's milk chocolate and dark chocolate or white chocolate and milky dark chocolate, the effect is strikingly pleasing.

You can see a little bit of the dark chocolate peeking around the edges of the white chocolate. I'll here make a reminder that the white chocolate does in fact have a darker color than is typical of white chocolate; the camera picked that up accurately. If you do, though, see any fingerprints or slight muddling of the smooth surface it's because I keep my apartment too warm for chocolate, so it was bound to get slightly marred. (I don't recommend putting chocolate in the refrigerator unless you have no other option. Once upon a time I used to keep an insulated bag with an ice pack for my chocolate stash, but that was too much hassle.) So that's my fault. 

Instantly on unwrapping, you get a nice coffee smell. On tasting, the coffee hit comes at the same time as that creamy, milky flavor. The white chocolate gives a super soft and creamy texture. In fact, examining the bar would suggest that the white chocolate takes up just a tad more than half the thickness, which is in keeping with the latte effect. There is then more of a cocoa butter flavor than a straight cocoa flavor. There is some chocolate richness, but primarily this is a sweet and creamy concoction. Also it's probably milder on the coffee flavor than the plain Coffee Break Bar itself is; again, though, that's consistent with the latte comparison. 

For more coffee flavor, bite in dark chocolate side down. For less coffee during the bite but more of a coffee aftertaste, try it white chocolate down. Or to mingle coffee and sugar and milk, just mix them up as they melt in your mouth. The white chocolate that Zak's makes is already quite unique. Pair that with such a delightful concept as layered white and dark with coffee and it's an undeniable winner, something to add to the foodie lists. One thing I do not recommend: sharing this chocolate bar. You will want your own, so buy a separate one per person.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Household Essentials Anyone?

I don't really have anything to post about, but I bought something new lately that is very exciting and entirely random and yet also I think entirely worth sharing. So here it is along with another handy little item. You can get both of these at Joann's Fabric in the mending and washing and ironing section. The sweater comb I've had for years; it's about four dollars. The snag nab-it tool is three dollars and it's my new and exciting purchase. 

The sweater comb is for when you have a sweater (or other wool/wool-type product) that is getting pilling. You just brush it gently with the comb and all of that loose wool will gather onto the comb; you can then remove it and your sweater is new and nice again. A must have. It's not only great for your favorite sweater at home but also for that 100% cashmere sweater in the thrift store that is just right except that it's covered in pilling so no one wants it. Granted, if a sweater is really bad, it might take a little bit of time to clean it up, but it's worth it.

The snag tool came in two different styles. The other one had a little hook on the end to grab the end with, but I thought that this slimmer tool would be better for finer materials (versus bulky, coarse sweaters). It's basically a thick needle; instead of an eye, it has a rough tip. You poke the tool through the middle of a snag and push it through and the rough end will grab the snag and pull it along. Amazing. If you have a sweater, you can usually push the snag back through with just a regular needle or something. But I've also used this one on a silk/cotton knit blouse (my bearded dragon was responsible for that snag), and it pushed the snag back in easily without damaging the more delicate fabric. It also worked great on my heavy cotton bedspread. Super fast and simple.

Again, I'm just rambling about random products because I had nothing to post about today. But they do both go with the concepts I often repeat: buy to keep and take care of what you buy and buy things that can be repaired before replaced. And these two tools will help in the care and keeping of your clothing and scarves and blankets. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The New Era of David Copperfield

I wondered whether or not I would post about The Personal History of David Copperfield. To do so would be to admit to everyone that I went to a movie theatre, so I thought that perhaps I should only post if I had worthwhile comments on the film. It turns out that I do, but you know what? I also decided/realized that I don't need to be hiding anything I'm doing. Yes, I went to a movie theatre. And I was literally the only person watching the movie. There is no need for me to try and defend myself and my choices against hypothetical criticism. 

So David Copperfield, eh? Although there have been many film adaptations of the story, I have not seen any of them. I rather think that, though once one of the most popular Charles Dickens books, this book has fallen out of the modern consciousness a bit. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like people basically know Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol and then maybe Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. So there is already a degree of freshness to the story for those of us unfamiliar with it.

But there is much more freshness to this adaptation, isn't there? Sure, there is the way in which it subtly uses CG to help tell the story, like when Mr. Murdstone's hand reaches into David's happy memories. Nicely done effects. The big topic, though, of course, is the color blind casting. That is, it isn't really color blind per se. It's more that it isn't constrained by color. 

The great thing about this of course is that it allows more actors to have access to more types of roles. You only see non-white actors in certain historical settings if they're lower class characters (usually slaves or "wild natives" or one-dimensional guides or some combination of the three). So it's always nice in semi-fantasy settings like Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella to have a black family also trying on the slipper or what have you. David Copperfield asks, why limit things like that to fantasy? If film adaptations of historical novels already take liberties with historical facts, why not do the same with color? Is it really such a big deal or disturbance to the telling of the story?

Sure, if you were making Uncle Tom's Cabin, it would get a little confusing and wouldn't suit the purposes of the story if you casted color blind. But most of the books aren't like that. I don't think the 2011 Wuthering Heights got enough recognition for casting a black Heathcliff (though it was based on the book's description of Heathcliff, one might still consider it a liberal interpretation of phrasing). Still, that was an instance where casting went with story. This brings up an interesting point. If anyone were against color blind casting Victorian movies, why not at least cast the "lower class" characters more diversely? The popular Oliver Twist, for instance. What's to prevent casting a non-white actor to play the Artful Dodger or Nancy? (And just because there were less non-white upper class people at the time doesn't mean there were none, so maybe the occasional character in the background at the bookshop or something, too?)

This of course isn't what David Copperfield did. David Copperfield said hey, these are the people here and now when we are all getting together and putting on clothing and getting out our little cameras to play out this story and so these are the characters they're going to play. There are no rules to it. While you could believe that David has a white mother because we never see his father, his white friend has a black mother and his future wife Rosalind Wickfield doesn't look much like her father, either. So the casting, like I mentioned, is not really color blind. It is aware that our eyes are not blind to color; it just says that sticking to "realistic" casting doesn't matter in this context. That's why the casting is done in pairs like this; we are meant to notice it and see that it is fine and doesn't disrupt the story at all. We already know that they're actors playing roles and not actually related to one another. 

And in a way, it adds to the story. This story is all about class and how people rise and fall within their worldly circumstances and sometimes try to be something a little different from what they are (whether that means striving for self-improvement, lying like Mr. Micawber does, or conniving like Uriah Heep does). The story exposes many of the pretenses of society. David is the son of a lady one minute, a low class factory worker the next, then a gentleman, then low class again, and back up. It's all a bit of pretense: he is still David no matter where he is or what other people think of him at the moment. It's not entirely unlike how all of the actors who play characters are still people, no matter how they might be considered differently as far as casting goes at different points in time (the times when they would cast white actors even in ethnic roles because there are only white actors, the times when non-white actors got a great role because they had the physical look for it, the times when they found they could get lots of great roles but really wished they could play Jane Eyre or Oliver Twist or Elizabeth Bennett or Ebenezer Scrooge). 

Okay, yes, the casting affected the film enough that it's all I've talked about for my whole post. But I wouldn't have bothered talking about it if I hadn't enjoyed the movie and thought that it was well-done as far as pacing and theme and costumes and acting and everything. And because such a nice, well-rounded, likable movie had this type of casting, it does indeed suggest the beginning of a new era. I love Victorian novels, but they're, well, old. Filmmakers are always looking for ways to freshen up the favorites especially when they've been adapted a dozen times already. So why not do so with the casting? 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Super Chunks & Zak's Chocolate: Guatemala Chocolate Ice Cream

You know, sometimes I just love living in Scottsdale. Among its charms are the many small businesses. I've been going heavy on Zak's Chocolate products this year, and the one I have today is another collaboration. This is Guatemala Chocolate Ice Cream made by Super Chunks Sweets & Treats with chocolate from Zak's. Super Chunks is in Old Town (conveniently placed for locals and tourists alike). While I have not visited their shop yet, I have read about them (their desserts are quite photogenic). They're a husband and wife team just like Zak's is, which is cool. 

I purchased this ice cream from Zak's (it recently came back in stock after a short time away); I'm not sure if it's something that Super Chunks keeps on hand, too, or not. Point being that you may or may not have to plan ahead a big to get it. It came in a simple white container. And yes, this is a small, pint size. That works for me as this is normally the size I get on those occasions when I am buying ice cream. 

The color is lighter than I had expected; it's a soft, milky brown. I served some up in a little condiment bowl in my attempt to get a photo. Ice cream is one of the products I've had the most trouble photographing over the years--although I think the chocolate pasta was worse. Staging is the difficult part, you know? (And you can see here that I don't have a nice, rounded ice cream scoop. That would have given it a more even look in the bowl.)

The chocolate here is the Guatemala Lachua 70% (click here for that review). I was struck instantly by how genuine the chocolate flavor is in the ice cream. It isn't that it's super dark or deep, as you can tell from the light color. You can taste the creamy milkiness, though the chocolate flavor is still in the center. It is excellent chocolate flavor despite not being a "super dark" chocolate ice cream. Because after all, "super dark" isn't the definition of good, anyway. I'm a big proponent of classics, or of letting each product be the best version of itself. So I usually choose vanilla ice cream over chocolate because when I want good chocolate flavor, I reach for a chocolate bar rather than ice cream. So I like that this ice cream still retains that creamy feel that is specific to ice cream. 

And yet even in doing so, it delivers that wonderful chocolate flavor. You could almost, then, call this more of a milk chocolate (after all, it is chocolate plus cream). I don't taste all the flavor notes I listed in the chocolate bar, but there is still more nuanced flavor here than is typical for ice cream. And I'll also add this note. One of the best-tasting chocolate ice creams I can remember having had (I don't recall who made it) unfortunately had a slightly grainy texture, perhaps from cocoa powder. So I will add that the texture here is perfectly normal.

This is an excellent collaboration (as well as a reminder that I do need to give Super Chunks Sweets & Treats a visit sometime). How you approach it is of course entirely up to you. Maybe you'll serve it up in condiment bowls like I did or maybe you'll just cuddle up to the pint with a spoon. Or maybe it'll be an accent to a special occasion dessert--some birthday or anniversary cake, perhaps? 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Truffle Selection

 In celebration of a chocolate blogger's birthday, today I have an extra review. I treated myself to some truffles from Zak's Chocolate. One of the advantages of having to do curbside pickup right now is that they can add extra prep to your selection. Their website lists the flavors available for each day, so you just write in the notes of your order which ones you would like. 

Normally when you're choosing from the glass case in store, that's that. But when I went to pick up my box, it came with this handy label on the inside. The pretty pink background with vines would seem to be selected especially for my box of floral truffles, no? And because I was celebrating and therefore especially admiring of beauty, I didn't cut open these truffles to take pictures of their insides. Let them be this time. Their look is classic, with minimal embellishments.

Rose Caramel - This is the soft square with some pink sugar crystals on the corner. It smells fragrant like rose even before tasting. The caramel here is a chewy caramel, which I was enjoying when I was (gently, in a ladylike manner) hit with the rose flavor. Since the thicker caramel lingers in your mouth more than a liquid caramel would, it gives you a chance to linger on the rose flavor.  It reminds me more specifically of rose petals than of rose candy. Glancing back at the flavor descriptions, I saw that the caramel is infused with rose petals, so of course that would be why; ingredients and process do make quite a difference to the final product. This is fantastic, a treat for the rose-lover. While the caramel is chewy caramel, it isn't stiff, so it is still soft and flavorful and elegant. The rose flavor lingers in the mouth, too, which is nice. Because of the stronger rose flavor, I enjoyed this caramel more than the rose truffle that came in the Valentine's Day box I chose a couple years ago.

Peach Blossom - This would be the rounded dome with the pale color swirls. Here the aroma is chocolate, and inside is a deep ganache inside. First I simply tasted the ganache and then the peach. It is sweet but also slightly tart but all with the rich chocolate to act as a grounded base. The taste is fresh peach that also lingers a bit, though not so much as the rose. The effect is somehow quite decadent, though that isn't what I would have predicted from a peach truffle. I wasn't expecting to dislike it, but I'm liking it more than I'd expected.

Raspberry Rose - On that Valentine's Day selection, I had skipped the Raspberry Rose because I usually skip raspberries. But I'm giving berries a chance these days and expanding my flavor ranges. This truffle is the elegant square with the pink print. I can smell the raspberry. The bite in is soft as the chocolate isn't too thick. So you go right to ganache, which tastes of chocolate and raspberries. Like fresh, ripe raspberries in their prime and best flavor, not sour or bitter. The berry flavor goes excellent with the rich chocolate. Perhaps when I specifically seek the rose flavor, I can find it, but it's more of an accent. The raspberry is the main event, blended with the chocolate. Compared with the two previous truffles, the chocolate is most prominent in this one so far. So this truffle is also quite nice and indulgent and I'm glad I didn't keep shunning it. It was well worth the venture.

Hazelnut Crunch - I went a little off for the floral bundle by throwing a nut in there, but it was what I wanted, so there. And why not add a twist to the flowers by including a nut? Hazelnuts are a little bit of a favorite of mine. The geometric dome has a funky one next to the other more feminine truffles. Its texture is lightly crispy/crunchy accompanied by the flavor of chocolate and fresh hazelnuts. I was starting to get a certain texture in my teeth that seemed different when I once again glanced back at the flavor descriptions and saw that these are lightly caramelized hazelnuts. Interesting, I don't know if I've ever had that before. The texture is halfway between a ganache and a praline. It's a welcome effect, adding a slightly different angle to a familiar type of chocolate.

In fact, this selection is probably one of my favorites. Usually when you choose a few truffles, you'll have your stand outs and the ones you didn't love as much. But I greatly enjoyed all four of these.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Mulan: A Graceful Discovery of Identity

 Of the Disney live action remakes, the idea of Mulan made the most sense to me. The animated film lends itself well to live action because it is in fact much like watching an action movie, something more associated with live action than with animation. And I think it's generally one of the underrated (or under remembered?) of the Disney animated films, so I've been excited just to see more of the story.

This movie would definitely have looked better on the big screen than on my laptop (not that my TV is much bigger, but anyway it isn't new enough to be able to play Disney+, which is why I'm limited to my laptop for their content). Visually, it's a nice-looking action movie. Because that is what this movie is: it's an epic, a legend, the story of a heroine representing her family and her country. 

Niki Caro's Mulan returns the story to a specific time and place in Imperial China. Therefore it has much more respect for the traditions of that time and place (I will state outright that I have little knowledge of such traditions; there are others more qualified than me to speak at length on that, so that isn't my goal). For instance the marriage plot. We see Mulan as a girl and then a young woman with talents and interests that don't fit in with the docile and proper image of a female in her community. But instead of the film showing her as a klutz like in the animated version, we see her display extreme agility in the tea serving scene--just not in a way that fits within the role she was supposed to play while serving tea. And while we see Mulan's hesitation about the idea of marriage, the film does not condemn a whole society's approach to marriage. At the end, Mulan's sister shyly and excitedly tells her that she has been matched and she is pleased with the match. This is important: it means that the story is not meaning to upend the entire culture. After all, the story comes from this culture.

So Mulan's personal journey is a little different in this movie than in the animated one. We don't see her learning new skills (battle) that better suit her personality (as compared to domesticity). We see her learning to accept a part of herself. And because it is a part of herself, her community accepts it, as well. Mulan is not a rebel. She doesn't go to war because she's sick of serving tea and wants to wield a sword. She goes to war to honor her family. She knows that her father cannot and that she can. 

Which brings us to another important point. Humility. The animated film makes a bigger deal of Mulan's willingness to stand out, whereas the live action shows that Mulan is respectful to her culture. Respect for elders and leadership is big, as is a certain humility and calmness of bearing oneself. She's not a big-mouthed, 21st century American. And given that I'm a little sick of the big-mouthed rebel characters, this was refreshing. Mulan takes action and is respectful at the same time. That is why she is remembered as a heroine of legend.

At certain beats in the story, I did wish each new realization had the weight that it did in the animated version. For instance, the "To Be a Man" sequence is a huge turning point as Mulan realizes that with strength and determination, she can achieve as much as anyone around her can. Live action Mulan's realization of how to express her own strength is quieter--which is in character but makes the emotional journey appear more subtle on screen. 

I didn't care for what I saw of the witch, Xian Lang, in the trailers. But when you watch the movie, her role makes sense. She is the foil or flip side for Mulan. She allows Mulan to have dialogue with someone about what she is going through. And she provides that necessary contrast, to show what Mulan is doing. Again, Mulan is not bitter and rejected (well, at least not as rejected as Xian Lang, though she's already brought some dishonor to her family); she is seeking to honor her community. Mulan and Xian Lang both realize that it is possible to fully express this personality as a female and still have the respect of the community. It's quite . . . graceful. 

They also did a good portrayal of Mulan's relationship with her fellow soldiers. Their camaraderie is natural and genuine. And after hearing that Shang would be taken out (I understand why they wouldn't want Mulan's love interest to also be her commanding officer, even though I don't myself mind it in the animated version), I was glad to see a bit of a love story in there. Just nice and subtle to satisfy those of us who are happy to see it but small enough not to bother those who don't want it. 

Because the point of the story is not that Mulan gets a relationship. Outwardly, she finds her place within her community. Inwardly, she finds her place with herself. And she is able to reconcile the two. She finds that she is loyal and brave but wants to also be true. So her secret is not discovered by circumstances out of her control (the treating of her injuries). She freely tells it herself. Again, her motivation is not rebellion, it is aligning herself with the virtue's of her people. She wants to be true to herself and to them. 

I'm sure I could continue rambling, but I suppose these are my main thoughts. Because this is a war movie, it probably won't be one that I'll be rewatching often. But I did think that overall they did a nice job with it. It reminds me a lot of Cinderella in the sense that it freshened up the familiar story and quietly added a graceful nature to its heroine that would still resonate with modern audiences. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Papua New Guinea 70%

 Returning to the single origin bars from Zak's Chocolate, today we have their Papua New Guinea 70%. The paper this time is blue and silver, which go excellently once more with the blue foil side of the inside wrapping. The pattern, too, blends well with the usual diamond shapes on the chocolate. Flavor notes here are black cherry and tobacco leaf. 

The chocolate's aroma is intoxicating, with what I call silver notes. (I call chocolate blue, red, silver, but why not ever gold?) Blue and silver, as in the packaging, are definitely this chocolate's colors. Its profile is bewitchingly smooth.

Beginning with a tender mouthfeel and smooth chocolate flavor, this chocolate is light and glistening. Like if chocolate were glass--or diamonds, perhaps? Then it deepens to something perhaps a tad earthier and richer. That rich chocolate taste that develops is akin to a ganache. In that rich chocolate flavor is where you would find the black cherry notes; it's like a flourless chocolate cake in regards to that flavor. The chocolate melts away as tenderly as it began, leaving behind a delicately tangy taste of bliss.

There tend to be the chocolates that are filled with flavor notes and the chocolates that simply have cocoa notes; I would say this one lands somewhere in between. It has complex flavor but not quite that layered flavor. So it has that blessed simplicity of the chocolate flavor we all love while also offering a more nuanced profile. That combination of both sides is what makes it such a stunner, like an entrancing lover. 

It's cool and suave while also sensitive and understanding. There is zero bitterness to this chocolate, so it's quite approachable. The tobacco leaf flavor note implied something a little more intimidating to me, but perhaps the touch of earthiness or even my analogy of a lover was my interpretation of the tobacco (not that I would want a lover who smokes tobacco--I'm talking archetypes here--but I digress). So it is another great exploration of chocolate from Zak's. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Words You See

 Generally, I'm not into all the signs with words (and if you are, I don't mean to be rude; I'm just expressing what I like). "Family" or "Laughter" or "Today is a day to have a good day" or whatnot. I would rather express than put up words. Words aren't decor to me. (And they're also a current decor trend and I mainly avoid those, anyway, so I guess I would steer away from the words trend just like any other trend.)

However, sometimes when there are words around so much, you find yourself putting them out, too. And it's kind of comforting. The most subtle one is this little Bible verse print out. I got it in a Christmas money gift a couple years ago and absently set it on this Victorian cracker tray (yes, they had cracker trays--isn't that awesome?) when I was unpacking my things. But it stayed and stayed and stayed some more until eventually I decided that I quite liked it. After all, I'm not really going to use the cracker tray for crackers (even if I wanted to, they would have to be tiny crackers barely bigger than quarters). So why not use it as a little display on my table for some words that don't stand out decor-wise but are a welcome reminder when you stop to look at them closely?

The one in my hallway (where I keep my "newer" pictures) has been there for the longest. I like Hobby Lobby, sure, but like I said, I usually steer clear of all the signs with words on them and Hobby Lobby is full of signs with words on them. But when I saw this one in the 90% off section, I rather liked it. It seems different, no? The metal actually looks like copper and it's more like a label, a statement than a decor sign. When I saw it, I thought, yes, that's what I want to declare for my house. (As it is a hallway and therefore rather dark in the picture, the verse is Joshua 24:25, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.")

And then I was there again recently picking up a couple things and I saw these magnets. Some had generic things on them and others had Bible verses. Are you seeing the trend now? I'm still not so much into the sayings, but I'm okay with putting out Bible verses. Those are good things to contemplate. I often forget that I already have word magnets on my refrigerator; I use them so infrequently. What with the size and layout of my kitchen, the front of the refrigerator isn't hugely visible. So why not bend on my whole avoidance of signs with a little magnet that says something very special?

If I'm putting words out in my house, I don't want them to point to me. I don't want them to glorify me. I want them to point me to God. 

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Dark Star Wars Legends

 Last year's Star Wars: Myths and Fables was a fun new take on the Star Wars universe, so naturally it was exciting to learn that we would also be getting a Dark Side version. Sadly, Star Wars: Dark Legends is not so interesting a boo physically. While the first had that great dragon-esque picture with Obi-Wan, this one just has Darth Vader. I like Darth Vader as much as the next person and his design is great, but his face/mask is everywhere. These books are a chance to spark a different sort of interest, so I would have liked to see a more unique image.

This book is also smaller than the first. It's a more standard size, still fairly thin. While that makes it less of a coffee table book (which is fine since the cover image isn't as interesting), the benefit is that it also makes it clear that this is primarily a children's book. For the first book, I mentioned not always enjoying the simplistic style--but if you go into a book knowing that you're an adult reading a children's book, then you can be more lax about the simple writing style.

And again, the style isn't just children's-book-style. George Mann writes as if these are mythological stories that have been passed down through the generations. Overall, these were a more consistent quality than in the first book. They also veer slightly to the tongue-in-cheek tone. I imagine they way in which the reader receives them is going to vary widely depending on the reader. A child reading them might find them a little scary. But an adult reading them will smile at the twist on traditional stories like vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein. Rather than being dark to an adult, they're pretty fun.

They all come with a bit of a moral, too. From the title, I'd expected these to be the myths of the Sith, rather than simply stories about dark topics. So they do come with a bit of a warning to not repeat the mistakes of the characters. Some of them triumph against dark forces; others succumb to the darkness in themselves and face perpetual punishment. So it's very Dante's Inferno to see how they reach their inevitable end and their just rewards. 

All this being said, this book is extremely Star Wars in that it has appeal for both children and adults, which is kind of rare when it comes to books.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Good King: Snacking Cacao - Love

 Have you ever had a whole cocoa bean? We make chocolate from the seeds that are inside cocoa pods, and those seeds do undergo quite the transformation to become what we call chocolate. Eating a cocoa bean is something of the equivalent with coffee of having a shot of espresso. If you've mainly only had lattes, then that shot of espresso will be stronger than if you're already used to drinking black coffee. So if you mainly eat chocolate of a lower cocoa content (whether it's milk or dark chocolate), then a cocoa bean will be more of a shock than if you've eaten a lot of super high cocoa content chocolate. 

I've had cocoa beans before as a novelty, just to try them. Usually just nibbling on one is all I can manage; they're strong. Nibs are better because they're smaller pieces and they're usually either sprinkled on a bar of chocolate or dipped in chocolate. This Snacking Cocoa from Good King (which you can currently buy from Zak's Chocolate) is a new concept to me.

These are whole, lightly caramelized cocoa beans (so there is a tad of sugar involved). They come in plain or flavored. I figured I would need some other flavors to help with the strength of the cocoa, so I chose Love. These are the "fragrant and warm spices" of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and cardamom. 

While the bag is pretty plain, this is one of the cases where packaging doesn't matter so much: it's the product that sells itself. And this is organic and fairly traded (the cocoa beans are sourced from Honduras), so we're good there. There's a little note on the back, too, about how these won't melt. And hey, that is a great thing, especially when you live in a warm region. You could in theory pack this bag with you on a hike for a sweet energy hit (and plenty to share with as many people as you want to go with because each seed is a hit already).

Opening up the seal reveals an amazing, warm smell like a good, fresh chai tea (none of that syrup or powder stuff). Or you could also say pumpkin spices, I suppose (which would make this the perfect fall snack). I cautiously bit into just half of one of the cocoa beans and came with a great flavor like Mexican hot chocolate (more like the Chocolate de Oaxcaca I reviewed a couple years ago than like Abuelita hot chocolate, but still the same concept either way). The combination of cinnamon and chocolate and even that crumbly, coarse texture of the bean gave it that welcome effect. 

The spices are good and fresh. If you're a fan of these warm spices as I am, then you'll enjoy their flavor. They go well with the chocolate, too. The light caramelization gives a slight crispiness to the outside texture of the beans that's pleasant to crunch on. Your first couple crunches will focus on this part and the spices, then you move more into the crunch of the beans and their intense cocoa flavor. This is why I recommend if you're not having one of the smaller beans or if you've never had cocoa beans before, start with just half. They seem small but they pack in the flavor. It is possible to get so overwhelmed that you don't even want to look at them anymore. But that's all just going to depend on what your palate is used to.

On my first try, just half a bean was enough for me. A couple days later, though, I had two small beans. So snacking is an appropriate word in that most people will probably just nibble away at the bag piece by piece. It is a tiny bag, about 3 by 5 inches. But there is plenty in here (have I said that enough?). The packaging suggests pairing with cheese or berries or using on top of desserts. I would feel like they're too strong on their own to add to a dessert, but the idea of putting them on an appetizer board is appealing. While I have a feeling that even if I were to try all the other flavors I would still find Love to be my favorite, some of the simpler flavors might in fact go better with an appetizer board.  

What's nice is that you can approach these cocoa beans in so many different ways. They can be that gourmet addition to your table or they can be something to throw in your hiking backpack or they can be a secret hidden inside your desk for mid-afternoon nibbling. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Carefree English Rose

Sitting in Carefree above the greater Phoenix area is the English Rose Tea Room, a place which I have been meaning to visit for some years now. It is the place in the desert in which you can sit for a true English tea in a wholeheartedly feminine manner.

Throughout, you will also find plenty of tea sets and English embellishments; there is always something to look at. 

All the teacups and plates are unique and ready to welcome you to your table. They had a handy way of approaching the disposable menu regulation: the menus are under the glass on the table along with vintage photos and lace doilies. Pretty and practical. 

You can order soup and salads and quiche and the like, but I had to go full tea room. They do have the afternoon tea with three tiers: desserts, scones, and finger sandwiches. Or you can get just the sandwiches. Or just the scones. Or what I got: Just Desserts has the scone tier and the dessert tier. More manageable, yet still indulgent. I'd like to return at some point and try the sandwiches next.

For the tea, I went with the Paris tea. They do have a wide selection of teas, plain, flavored, and herbal. They're loose teas and good quality. Since I've given up my daily cup of black tea (I've been having Yerba mate in the morning for now), the Paris tea itself was quite a treat. 

I wanted to like the scones more than I did, but maybe that's just because I'm used to mine. The desserts were lovely, though. The macaron and cookie were nice. Normally I don't care for chocolate-covered strawberries because the chocolate is usually cheap and the strawberries tasteless. But this strawberry was fresh and flavorful (there were a couple more plain strawberries on the scone plate). They use good ingredients here. That cake square on the top left was my favorite. The inside was strawberry and cream, and though it seems a plain piece it was gorgeous in flavor and texture. 

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment, the room had extra decorations and the staff were decked out in 1920's fashion. (I'll add here that they were all very nice and attentive to our table.)

And in cooler weather, their patio still has its own decor, like this teapot sculpture. 

Previously the only tea room I had been to was the Crown and Crumpet in San Francisco ten years ago (where we did get the full afternoon tea). While I absolutely enjoyed that visit, I do believe I prefer the English Rose. Maybe it's just because it's in my home state, so I know I can go back again. Maybe it's because this was more of a special occasion visit. Maybe it's because I liked the little room (with less tables than it normally squeezes in). Eating that little cake square in a room of teacups, what could be more Carefree than that?