Friday, January 17, 2020

Tony's Chocolonely: Milk Chocolate Honey Almond Nougat

Tony's Chocolonely was completely new to me a couple years or so ago but now they seem to be a pretty stock product in a couple stores. I was drawn to this bar because I like yellow (not all shades of yellow . . . ) and I like honey and nougat and milk chocolate (why choose between milk and dark when there is a time for each of them?).

The thing is, though, a Milk Chocolate Honey Almond Nougat chocolate bar is most likely to be quite different from a candy bar made with chocolate, honey, and almond nougat. You can already see how from looking at the bar: the little nougat pieces are visible just within the chocolate's surface. So yes, they're crunchy pieces, not something soft. I had probably been more focused on the word honey than nougat, but it's definitely worth noting that the nougat here is not the soft substance we're used to from candy bars, if that's what you were hoping for.

The chocolate has kind of a nutty milk chocolate flavor on the tongue. As you chew into the nougat, you get all the little crunchy pieces and sweet flavor. It's nice enough but I wanted more.

A little while back, everyone (including Tony's) was confusing me with crunchy caramel pieces. Now the same thing is happening with nougat. I just don't get it. I'd rather have the crunch of toffee than this. And I kept hesitating about the chocolate, as well. It's 32% and yet it has a feeling of being almost a darker milk chocolate--with a kind of watery taste. It's almost like I want it to be sweeter--even though it is sweet. Maybe I want it to be creamier.

I wasn't expecting this to be fancy milk chocolate. I just wanted it to blend with that creamy, confection style chocolate flavor along with honey and nougat. This is too sweet in the wrong way, more nutty than creamy. When I looked at the Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt from Tony's a couple years ago, I had similar things to say about the chocolate. So the fact of the matter is, their milk chocolate could be better.

This bar isn't bad; it just doesn't deliver what it could. Of course, I'm all for the Tony's mission, but the chocolate has to be more enticing if we're going to choose this chocolate over other brands. Which makes me think. I need to look at the shelves again. Are there any fair trade chocolate brands that make a nougat chocolate bar in the style of Snickers and Three Musketeers? Those are some of my favorite candy bars--but I never buy either of them because I've committed not to. Gourmet chocolate is great, and flavored chocolate bars are great, but sometimes we also want our candy bars. And I think the name of this chocolate bar reminded me of something sweet and enticing--and I just didn't get that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

You Don't Need To

I can be a completist. As in, if I read one book, I want to read all the others, too. If I started one show, I want to watch all the spin-offs, too. If I like some of someone YouTube videos, I want to watch everything they put out. But that's just way too much, isn't it?

I don't want to spend so much time with headphones on and voices pouring in. And if there are so many things that I want to watch that I am interested in, I shouldn't spend time on things that I think I should watch that I'm not actually interested in. Take, for instance, Star Trek. A couple months or so ago, I tried watching Enterprise. The first episode was terrible (and I'll say that because this is a generally forgotten-and-considered-terrible series) and yet I still went on and watched another one or two episodes. Just because I wanted to be able to say that I'd watched all the Star Trek. What? I even admit that I'm not a huge Star Trek fan; I only like it somewhat. And yet I was trying to be a completist with something that I was greatly disliking for many reasons? No sense in that.

There was a time when I probably would have watched it just to watch it. I mean, I watched all the Battlestar Galactica spin-offs in college; that time could have been better spent. And then even if there are things I'd like to get to, there's no rush. I still need to watch the Doctor Who episodes for the third through eighth doctors--but I'm okay with waiting years to even get around to watching more because it's just TV, it doesn't matter that much.

All this also makes me think of the time that I spend on content that might not have anything necessarily wrong with it but that doesn't, well, doesn't help my state of mind. Like artist movies. I'm a sucker for artist movies, but sometimes I have to be careful about when I watch them. And I'm talking about the tragic, emotionally stirring things like Bright Star. The ones that start playing into my emotions a little too much sometimes. They can start encouraging thoughts in my head of tragedy--and of tragedy as beautiful, which can almost lead to an admiration of tragedy rather than acceptance of tragedy when it does happen. If I'm making the difference clear.

Point being, all of the things that we fill our heads with make a difference. If I say, I like to listen to YouTube videos in the morning while I'm getting ready and then at the end of the day when I'm in the kitchen and also when I'm cleaning the house, then that can be okay but it can also mean that I'm clogging my head. Sure, if I'm about to start scrubbing the bathroom, there's nothing wrong with turning on YouTube so that I can feel like I'm making use of that time and also being productive while also getting through the videos I want to see without just sitting on the sofa. But if I have them on for majority of the time that I'm home, well, that becomes a problem.

Part of it is that I'm trying to keep up with everything new coming out. I'm trying to watch those videos so that when there are the times that I just want to sit down and watch something, I can go for a movie or show from my long Netflix List instead. But if there are more minutes' worth than I should be spending time on, well, then, it's time to start cutting it back. If I only started watching this person because of a certain type of videos they used to make and they no longer make those, maybe I can unsubscribe. If I used to like these videos, but now I've had my fill, I can let it go now. If I like this type of videos from this person but not that type, I only need to watch the ones that I like.

In the process of unclogging one's head, it is important to consider what one is filling one's head with. What other things would I rather make time for (and more benefit from making time for) than YouTube videos or a TV show I don't even like?

So if you're like me and you feel like you need to watch that show or that list of videos or whatever it may be, you don't need to. You really don't. Watch some when it's time to watch and enjoy it, sure, but leave it at that. There are endless things to consume right now, so it's time (past time) to cap our personal consumption.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Strong Emotions Much?

I think I've shared that I realized last year that I kind of grew up thinking that I was being bad when I cried--and since I'm a crier, this led me to dislike that part of myself and feel like it should be different. As I went into adulthood and realized that it isn't just that I'm a crier, it's that I experience intense emotions, I started to dislike the intensity. I mean, when they're good emotions, it's nice. I feel like Lucy Snowe in Villette, like I can live my whole life off of the memory of one good moment because that one good moment will stay in my memory forever as a very real and intense emotion. But when the intense emotions are negative, well, sometimes I can try and funnel them into writer's mode, but sometimes it just isn't fun and I wonder when I'll be able to stop the intensity.

This month, though, I had a powerful realization. I realized that yes, I do experience intense emotions, so that means that that's just how my mind works, so that means that that's how God made my mind. Wow. And suddenly my whole perspective shifted. Some people are amazing with numbers and come up with all sorts of mathematical proofs and whatnot. Some people have such good memories for facts that they make extremely effective lawyers, etc. Our minds all work in different ways--and that's a good thing.

I remember in a painful moment being told that I was thinking with my emotions, with my heart--as if that was a bad thing. And sure, in that moment I did need to see with clarity past the specific emotions I was focusing on (being able to properly identify emotions is also important and would have really helped). But it is not a bad thing that I live my life with my heart. Yes, I can have either a positive or negative relationship with my emotions. At many points it has probably been quite a negative relationship, I'll admit. It's kind of a whole life's work to get that healthy relationship, isn't it? But it is okay to feel with intensity.

Because I feel so intensely, I will always remember that one guest who said a kind word that helped lift me up when I was having a hard day at work years ago. I will thank the worker at the store who's taking my cart for me in the parking lot with genuine enthusiasm and appreciation. I will get so excited and thrilled and happy when I see the first saguaro bloom of the season. I will see all the symbols and themes in a book or movie. I will do things in my community simply because it makes sense to me. When the time comes that I give my heart to someone, it will be wholly and completely. Though I have walked through dark days, I always come back to the light--though my mind may ache to pessimism at times, my heart always leads me to let optimism triumph. And best of all, it is because I am so driven by my heart that my heart always knew that God was there and was good--I've needed to learn more details over the years, but I always had that simple fact written on my heart. Because he made my heart.

And he also treasures my heart. I can see the joy in the pink sunset and I can feel the sadness of a coyote dead on the side of the road. I can be happy when I get to see my family and sad when I don't. And though emotions like sadness may be "negative" emotions, is it not also beautiful that I can feel pain? How many expressions of pain are in the Bible? Countless. Jesus himself wept. Just as it is good to joy, it is also good to grieve. A season for everything, eh? But the fact that he made my mind and he treasures my heart means that he is also the healer of my heart and the guardian of my mind. I can experience sadness or nervousness or whatever it may be. And it's okay. Because none of this is meant to control me; just because it might come into my mind doesn't mean it has dominion over me, doesn't meant that he doesn't want to heal my heart.

I'm learning to take back my mind, which in turn means that I'm staying more aware of my thoughts and my actions are also being affected. Instead of trying to bury or ignore my highly emotional quality, I'd like to simply let it be. Some feelings I need to submit to God in order to release them; others will just need to run their course without letting them take hold of me. If the negative emotions come on me in a rush, I can remember also what it feels like to be recklessly in love with the God who holds his hands out to me no matter where I am. Because I know what it is to feel dark, I also know what it is to experience the light. So what's wrong with seeing and remembering everything through the lens of emotions so long as I'm still letting God steer my life and my mind?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Stone Grindz: Ucayali River, Peru 70%

My goodness, has it really been a year and a half since I last looked at anything from Stone Grindz? I guess that sounds about right; that was around when my life started to get hectic, one of the results being that I wasn't able to go to the farmers market, which was where I had been getting Stone Grindz chocolate. But 2020 is a new year for me, even in terms of chocolate it would seem. So I'm bringing Stone Grindz back.

And I am so happy to be doing so and so proud once again to have this company in the city in which I live. This chocolate bar is wonderful, and it's one of those chocolates that can act as a wake-up if you're starting to lose interest in the whole zone of chocolate. I didn't pay much attention to the details when I bought this 70% dark chocolate sourced in the Ucayali River of Peru. I was honestly just looking at those International Chocolate Awards stickers. Those are no joke; there's lots of competition. So you know, I was curious.

I got more excited when I opened up the packaging to learn that the cocoa beans here essentially have Trinitario ancestry. Trinitario beans are great; they're just delicate and traditionally chocolatey, they're lovely. Then I looked at the chocolate bar and its simple and classy face greeted me warmly. It had definitely been a while since I'd looked a Stone Grindz bar in the eye, so it was a welcome greeting. The chocolate's color isn't as light as it appears in the picture, but it does still have a warm-toned face.  The aroma is of nibs, that intense cocoa feel that they carry.

The flavor is red and warm, with a liquid chocolate taste of smoothness. There is that feeling of sweetness that is more the flavor of the chocolate than of the sugar. I found an almost fruity/buttery flavor and a gentleness that was still strong. Then more chocolate-sweetness came in, and then cocoa flavors that felt milky (in a good way) even though this is dark chocolate. The chocolate finished with a breath, a sigh of gentle goodness.

I called this chocolate smooth, but there is zero plastic smoothness about it. There is zero bitterness. It is so gentle and yet contains such a feeling of depth. This chocolate tastes like who I want to be right now. It's quite feminine and yet lacking in no power. It knows its strength and goes for it full force.

As per my usual approach, I didn't look at the tasting notes until after I'd tasted. They are mocha, cedar, dried cherry, and chocolate. Okay, I definitely got the chocolate. The milkiness I mentioned sounds like it could be the mocha. I said almost fruity because when I say fruity I tend to think of citrus (like chocolate sourced in Madagascar) and I knew that wasn't right. So dried cherries make sense--and they're dried instead of fresh because those have less acidity and more richness, right? As far as the cedar goes, well, I can't say that I pick up any flavors that remind me of cedar; I don't know, I guess I'm just not that talented. Anyway, what I think is more the point about tasting notes for most of us is to just get a general sense of the chocolate. Even if I don't look at the notes and see that I'd written those down, too, I still end up looking at them and saying, oh, okay, yes, that's about the tone of the chocolate that I'd observed.

I'd definitely recommend this bar if you're looking for a chocolate that is both full of depth of high quality flavor and also traditionally chocolate-centered. Those zingy citrusy flavors I was mentioning, for instance, can be fun--but sometimes you just want a bar that tastes most strongly of chocolate. Sometimes those chocolates, though, can end up having less depth of flavor. But this one manages to hit both angles in what I find quite a unique way.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Visually Auditory?

One might assume that I am an auditory listener. I liked the college classes in which the professors would just stand in the front of the class and talk. So the assumption has always been that I am a good listener.

But I'm also good with visuals. If you take me to your house one time, I will be able to draw on a piece of paper all of the turns that we took to get there. I can keep a map inside of my head.

It figures then that when people talk about what type of learner you are, I never really felt like I was a certain one. Well, how do you study, people might ask. It depended on what I was studying for (and quite frankly I really didn't study at all until I get to college; I usually didn't feel like I needed to, and since I was writing more papers than taking tests in college, there were only so many times when I did need to study for a test). Usually I would just reread the material or my notes. I might make flashcards if there were specific words or numbers to memorize. So that's both auditory and visual, right?

I took a test the other day to see what kind of learner I am and my results were 40% auditory, 40% visual, and 20% tactile. Ha, no wonder. I think what happens is that auditory becomes visual in my head. So when a professor was talking, I would picture either the words or concepts that they were saying; I made up the visual element on my own. And when something is visual, I pair it with the sounds. So if someone is giving a presentation with charts or graphs or pictures, I see the concept and I remember their voice speaking over the image. That's the thing, too: when I meet or interact with someone, I may or may not remember their name or what they looked like but I will remember their voice for years after.

For me, sound and sight tie in to one another. I hear the clock ticking and I imagine its hands moving to mark each second. The one feeds into the other. Does that mean that I lean more toward visual than auditory? Or are they really at equal levels? I mean, the distinction doesn't really matter much, but it's interesting to think about.

I tend to have very visual memories, for instance. I don't necessarily remember what someone was wearing or everything that was in the room. My memories are tied in with emotions--but I also remember spaces. So for instance, if I remember a moment when I was scared as a child, I might remember who else was there and where they were standing in relation to me and also how big the room was and what rooms were next to it and how I got into that room, that sort of thing. I can't necessarily fill in all the details of the spaces (unless it's a place I studied well or visited often), but I can remember the spaces themselves because I keep the maps inside my head.

Hmmm. This is why I like to read. The words on the page are in themselves images. I don't have a photographic memory, but sometimes I think I have a tendency towards one. I can remember where on a page a certain sentence was (and this is what people call spatial learning). Words are in fact quite tangible and living things to me.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Arizona Falls

Phoenix history is very much the history of water in the valley. I like to tell people the story of how Phoenix got its name: settlers dug up the old Hohokam canals and started using them again, so like the mythical bird that rises up from its ashes, a new civilization was starting up again where one had previously been before.

Early Phoenix was agricultural. If you have agriculture, you need water. And if you have as many people living in a place as live in the greater Phoenix area today, you need water. So the history of the canals and the dams is linked tightly with the history of Phoenix settlement.

Today I'm drawing attention to a place that was historically a day trip destination and is today a little taste of history and a little education on the canals and a little leisure spot. That's Arizona Falls, of course.

True to its name, it was once essentially just a waterfall that people would visit, a place where they'd go to try and cool off or to enjoy a picnic. You can see pictures of people in their Victorian garb sitting out there and hear stories of how it was an all day thing to get there from what is today Downtown Phoenix.

Technically Arizona Falls is in Phoenix, but it's really just a hair away from Scottsdale. It's right next to a park and walking trails today. And it's changed. It's more covered up--but you can still see and hear and feel the power of the water.

Signage explains the history of water in the valley and the importance of the canals. Benches provide seating so that you can enjoy a quiet moment--well, quiet except for the roaring of the water. Art, in the form of design and poetry, sets this place up not just for function but also for beauty. In fact, the very point of incorporating art here is to establish the beauty of functional, necessary things--to let them in themselves be art.

Water is powerful. Water is necessary. Water is life. Here, now, and always. That's the message Arizona Falls conveys.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Carolina's Chocolate: Spicy Sonoran

I've seen Carolina's Chocolate around every so often. The Arizona-based company features the theme of heritage: memory of relatives and cultural flavors. When it comes down to it, though, I'd avoided taking a closer look because Carolina's just blends the chocolate with the flavors rather than making the chocolate. Still, it's fair trade chocolate and there is nothing wrong with not making the chocolate yourself. Chocolate making is an intense process--and skillfully blending flavors into chocolate is a different process.

I went for the Spicy Sonoran as the most classic-sounding bar from the line. The 64% chocolate contains cinnamon and cayenne. I also opted for this bar because of the cinnamon. I've said before that I'm not usually a fan of spicy chocolate--but I do enjoy cinnamon chocolate and sometimes the cinnamon can guide the spice in such a way that even I am okay with it.

This chocolate wholly expresses heritage. A picture of Carolina, the grandmother who inspired the flavors of Carolina's Chocolate, is front and center on the bag, which is tied off with a ribbon to give it that handmade look. You can almost imagine that she herself made it and put it in a little bag and handed it straight to you. The chocolate looks different from average. There are four pieces inside of varying thickness. One is about the usual thickness, but the other three are about half the usual. The effect is that, instead of a formal process that uses chocolate bar molds, this chocolate is just spread out to solidify and then cut up into pieces. Like you'd make fudge at home. And yes, the chocolate does have some bloom on it. I don't even know if I did that or if it already had it. It's Arizona; my chocolate nearly always gets bloom; it's just the way of things if you're not more careful than careful.

I tasted that sweet chile flavor almost before the chocolate hit my tongue. Then the cayenne built up along with the cinnamon. So the flavor is nice, but it does become a bit strong. I'd thought that the word "spicy" just meant that it had chile in it, not that it was in fact spicy. So this is definitely spicier than I had expected and a tad stronger than most chile chocolates tend to be. Not mild, for sure. Medium leaning towards hot maybe? So whether or not it's the right spice level for you will just depend on you. It's too spicy for me.

The chocolate is fine, better than what I had expected. I thought that it would be that weird, middle range, too sweet chocolate that tends to taste especially bad with spiciness, but that isn't the case. It is a sweeter dark chocolate, but it's at 64%, not 54%; that makes a difference. And you do want this to be a somewhat sweeter chocolate because of the cinnamon.

I took a smaller piece for my second try. Here I tasted the sugar along with the cinnamon--you know, kind of reminiscent of Abuelita hot chocolate. I also got less cayenne because I was getting a smaller piece. On a different day, I took such a tiny piece, barely bigger than a sunflower seed, and that was my favorite way to have it. That meant that the heat was contained enough for me that I could focus more on the flavors. The chocolate is still too much on the sweet side for dark chocolate for me. But that's almost as much of a personal preference as spice level is.

There are four other Carolina's chocolate bars that include other chiles or blends and one that just has salt. So I suppose if you're also hesitant about the spiciness, you could go for the salted one. But even as I declare that this chocolate wasn't made for me, it's the spicy chocolate that is what Carolina's is all about. And I can greatly appreciate that even as I think about who I can give the rest of this chocolate to since I can't really finish it on my own. Heritage flavors, yes, tradition, yes, family, yes, memory of good things, yes, and the sharing of those things, yes.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

On New Year's Day

It's funny. I wasn't planning on staying up on New Year's Eve. I thought it might disrupt my schedule too much to stay up late and then wake up late. And then even though I did stay up, I still woke up naturally before eight. It wasn't even time for the Rose Parade yet.

Once it was time, I did watch that, though. The normally generic themes felt different this year. The Power of Hope. Now that's a New Year's theme. And if I may repeat how they describe it: "Hope is dignity and respect, joy and happiness, aspiration and achievement." Yes, exactly. Dignity in yourself as well as respect for others because if we have these then we will believe that we are deserving of good things. Joy and happiness because they are two different concepts--and we can have both. Aspiration and achievement because the one leads to the other and helps us appreciate when we do get to the moment of achievement and helps spur us on to continue achieving even more.

And then I went to the Desert Botanical Garden. Lots of people out there today of course since we're still in winter break but there were also many people out in the streets and parks. People hiking and walking and riding their bikes and picnicking. The day was gorgeous. We've been having a lot of winter storms lately with clouds, colder weather, and rain. But today it was sunny and almost warm. No wonder everyone wanted to get outside and embrace the new year.

It's just another day. The sun may run on a certain schedule, but the sun doesn't know that we call today January 1st. The quail may know that it's winter, but they don't know that it's January 1st. We know that it is January 1st, but we also know that it's really just another day in our lives. So my point is that we have the power to make a day into a turning point. 

We can, at any point, stop and look at where we are and realize that we want to start fresh, that we want to do better than we have been, that we want to make changes. 

Happy New Year.