Thursday, December 31, 2020

Year's End

Normally I think of Old Town Scottsdale as the section below Indian School Road. On one side of Scottsdale Road are the art galleries and Ruze Cake House; on the other side are the Civic Center Plaza, Nonna Urban Eatery, The Mission Restaurant, and Bischoff's Shades of the West. That is, space to wander and space to sit, eateries, desserts, and moccasins. 

Lately, though, I've been spending more time in the space above Indian School. There you can walk (or sit) by the canal and get dessert (or lunch, though I've not had any yet) at Super Chunks Sweets & Treats. Their Saguaro dessert is as delicious as it is beautiful. 

When I was on my way to get such dessert a couple weeks ago, I happened to park in front of Sewell's Indian Arts & Crafts. I had been thinking that it would be nice to get a new cross necklace, maybe something handcrafted from Old Town, and there in the window of Sewell's such a one caught my eye. So I thought, hmmm, maybe I'll be back after Christmas and take a closer look.

I did. The pendant is from the David Rosales collection, and it has Sonoran Gold turquoise. Being that it is somewhat big on me (two inches isn't too big in general, just on me), I also picked up a smaller, silver cross with a simpler but still unique design. I may end up wearing that one more often, but I wanted the statement cross to be a sort of signature piece for me.

I ramble about all this here at Year's End to express some affection towards the fantastic small businesses in my area. And also to ponder what 2020 has been to me. This has not been an easy year for me--completely apart from the usual 2020ness. And yet this year has been incredibly beautiful, as well, in terms of what God has been up to in my life. So when I look at my silver and turquoise cross pendant, I think about who I am. The theme of this year has been reminding myself that I belong to God and he forms my identity. And that is a lovely thing. 

I stepped into this year with statements about the lies I have listened to about my identity and about what I do in fact believe (click here for that post). And now here at the end of the year, I find I've circled back around to that theme (even after having forgotten exactly how explicitly I had stated it a year ago). I made a statement about what I believed, and God has been showing me that truth in my life this whole year. And I think that perhaps if I were to take a next step for this coming year, it would be now that I have been focusing on God's declaration of my identity, to now trust in his promises for my life. 2020, identity; 2021, promise. And for both, I'll need plenty of trust. 

Happy New Year's Eve.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

A Treasury of Classic Christmas

It is possible that I have too many of the Barnes & Noble leather-bound classic editions. But they're just so beautiful. One of the most recent ones I acquired was two years ago a few weeks after Christmas--even though A Christmas Treasury was by then out of date, I knew Christmas would come again and I could then have this volume ready for me.

This the year of less events and gatherings turned out to be a great year for some quiet Christmas reading. Though the book looks large, it is not a long read. There are ten short stories and nine poems. Essentially it is filled with the classic Victorian Christmas. The outside of the book is a good tell for the inside: besides the gold-edged pages, there are also plenty of illustrations and visual details A gift book but also a readable one.

The book begins with the obligatory A Christmas Carol. It's always good for a reread. There are also familiar stories that if you're like me, you may not have read in the original before. These would be "The Gift of the Magi" and "Christmas Every Day." While Disney shorts and such are good ways to take in stories, it's also nice to read the text that inspires so many retellings. L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was a surprisingly intriguing read (though perhaps not so surprisingly--it wasn't by accident that The Wizard of Oz became so popular). While I'm not very much interested in Santa Claus for Christmas, this was a fun Santa Claus myth that put me in mind of C.S. Lewis's style. 

And you know, even though there were a fair amount of Santa Claus stories in here and even the ones that didn't include him also had a lot of presents and trees, there was a shift in focus to what I'm used to from modern movies about Santa Claus. The movies all seem to be about "believe in Santa Claus who gives us presents so that you can maintain magic in your life." These stories, though, were about bringing the heart and the warmth of Christmas to those around you. Presents are fun to get but it's better to see how you can bring about good things to the people in your sphere of influence. Decorations are fun but love is better. The little Christmas tree in the poem of the same name finds its place. We all have a role.

That's what was so refreshing about this collection. These stories aren't about the self. Even the stories about Santa Claus get back to the concept of selfless giving, giving for the joy of giving and helping, rather than about trying to grant your own wishes. 

Happy Christmas Eve. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

A Christmas Carol Reimagined

While I did make it through this year's A Christmas Carol directed by Jacqui Morris, I was tempted to walk out of the theatre, something I've never done before. I don't mind a slow movie and I don't mind artsy and experimental movies (I'm the one who normally likes to go out to see plays, ballets, and operas, remember?). I just didn't think this film made good use of dance (except perhaps when it came to Scrooge and his fiancĂ©e or maybe the Ghost of Christmas Present), nor of its references to the stage. And the constant voiceover narration and dialogue kept removing the viewer from the emotion of what was on screen. I would have enjoyed the movie more on mute, I think. 

Anyways. I had thought perhaps I would do a dual movie post. But as I haven't much good to say about the aforementioned movie, the rest will focus on one that is not quite new but that I just saw for the first time this year--The Man Who Invented Christmas directed by Barahat Nalluri. While it is not strictly a retelling of A Christmas Carol, in telling of Charles Dickens writing the story, you do get most of the familiar characters, dialogue, events, and themes.

In that way, it is a sort of fresh look at the familiar story. And it is interestingly composed as far as the bleeding of the fictional world into the real one. That aspect is what brings me into my topic of focus. We're all so familiar with Scrooge's story that it's easy to follow his journey from miser to ecstatic giver with complacency. But what this movie, with its focus on Dickens's own person, does is bring the focus back onto the self.

We aren't meant to see Scrooge's story to remark on what an awful person he is; we are meant to be reminded of that bit of Scrooge in all of us (though it will manifest itself differently in us each). We're not meant to simply say good for you, old Scrooge, for changing your rotten ways. We're meant to remember that we, too, can constantly be improving. And this isn't just expressed in the way in which Dickens struggles in his own person. It's also in the observations he makes.

When we see, for instance, a familiar piece of Scrooge's dialogue from a person in his own life, we see how the theatrical words can in fact live in the real world. What looks so fantastical on the page does in fact have its place in reality. We do often say and hear harsh things or do and see done harsh deeds. If that weren't the case, we wouldn't feel the need to keep retelling Scrooge's story--in every time period and with whatever class or type of characters (be they present day, historical, rich, middle class, poor, or Disney mice or frogs and pigs). It's a universal theme: remember that your actions affect your fellow Man. 

As we take the last couple of Christmas days, watch those last movies or read those last stories, curl up on the sofa with family, and get ready for the opening of presents and festive eating, let's let that be the thing that we get from it all and bring with us into the dark wintry season ahead. We need one another.

Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Chocolove: Hazelnut Latte Bites

Whereas I often only have a couple of Christmas chocolates to review (even if there are several out there, most companies make the same ones year after year--which is fine but doesn't give me anything new to write about), this year I've had quite a flood of them. The Chocolove Peppermint Creme Bites has easily been my most popular review, so perhaps it's fitting that I finish off with one more Chocolove offering that my store only recently had back in stock (I bought the Christmas chocolates as soon as I saw them, so I don't know how I missed this one). 

The Hazelnut Latte Bites come in the same style of packaging with decorated trees and snowflakes on the bag. This time, though, the blue is lighter, evoking morning instead of evening. That is, the time of day in which you might be reaching for a hazelnut latte. The only disappointing part about this is that the individual wrappers are also a paler blue, which means that the snowflakes are barely visible on them. That makes them not quite as cheery as stocking stuffers. 

The chocolate is in the same cute tree shape, just also lighter in color of course with the milk chocolate. Cutting them open revealed a fairly crumbly looking light brown filling. With our cultural obsession with hazelnut spread, I would have expected something smoother, so this is interesting. Even before opening the packaging, I could smell the chocolate and maybe even the hazelnut. Although that may have been an accident: there was some chocolate on some of the wrappers. Perhaps there was a loose chocolate in processing that didn't make it into the bag but did dance around the wrapped chocolates before it was caught.

There is the barest hint at a crispy or crunchy texture from the filling and also the slightest touch of salt--which makes it more reminiscent of Reese's Cups than the plastic hazelnut spread that shall not be named. The hazelnut has good flavor, and as I mentioned with the Pumpkin Spice Bites, Chocolove makes a decent, standard milk chocolate. Hazelnut and milk chocolate are an easy win. It would be hard for me to give these a bad review even if it weren't for the fact that they're unique.

Hazelnut chocolate is not unique. But remember that Reese's Cup comparison? That's what I mean. With all of the peanut butter alternatives, chocolates will use almonds or sunflowers instead, but I've yet to see a hazelnut butter cup. And now that the idea is in my head, I would ask for someone to please make me one, but that's essentially what Chocolove has done here already. I've pretty much abandoned the "latte" aspect; I don't taste any coffee. If that's disappointing, though, the charming hazelnut filling will surely cheer you up. 

There were twenty of these little hazelnut chocolate trees in my bag. And I have been positively drowning in Christmas chocolates lately (I know, I know, terrible thing to be complaining about). Yet I find myself quite reluctant to share these. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Chocolove: Pumpkin Spice Bites

As I rush to get all of my Christmas chocolate reviews out before Christmas, I have two more items from Chocolove. They were restocks at my store, so they must have sold out so quickly that I never had a chance to get them when they first showed up. The first is not actually a Christmas item. With the Pumpkin Spices Bites, we're going back to fall--but people make pumpkin pie for Christmas, too, so let's go with it. 

The bag is nice and cheery, though I've no pumpkins still out with which to take pictures of it (though I do have a turkey ornament on my mini tree that got to help out). The leaves make a warm border for the ripe pumpkin in the center. With the whole pumpkin spice trend, it's nice to have products that are generally autumnal and not specifically Halloween. Which is also nice because that means I can be opening these up just before Christmas and they're not too out of date. 

The individual wrappers are light in color with more fall leaves. Inside, the pumpkins are quite round, almost like circles. The look is pretty cute. The Chocolove double C's that form the heart shape on their surface, though, I don't favor as much. I find the they interfere with the pumpkin look, which would be better as the first visual you notice. But I suppose hearts go with a loving fall vibe, eh? (Or first day of winter, as they case may be when this post goes up.)

Colored in pale orange, the chocolate's filling looks just like pumpkin pie. It brings the light aroma of familiar spices. On tasting, I indeed found pumpkin pie flavor. It's basically the standard pumpkin pie flavor sitting in the middle of milk chocolate, which is quite welcome. While some pumpkin spice products only have the spices and not the pumpkin, this one does have pumpkin (both pumpkin puree and pumpkin concentrate). Hence the pumpkin pie effect. 

They also used cream in here, which is interesting and not too common for a grocery store product like this. And they disclose their spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves), which not everyone does, even when they're pretty obvious standards like this.

I think I did once put a chocolate top on pumpkin pie filling around middle school to high school. Or did I just think about doing it? No, I think I did. Either way, the flavor combination is pretty natural and pleasing. This isn't one of the weirder pumpkin spices offerings. I definitely find I prefer Chocolove's milk chocolate to their dark; it's pretty standard, but I prefer a standard milk chocolate to a standard or less than standard dark chocolate. You want the sweetness of the milk chocolate here because it adds to the dessert effect. So for pumpkin spice chocolate candy, these are pretty nice. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Black Butterfly: Artisan Hot Chocolate

We have come to the fourth and final Christmas chocolate from Black Butterfly. I chose this one as a special gift to myself--not so much for the chocolate but for the, um, keepsakes. There is one pound of 61% Venezuelan hot chocolate--and also a molinillo and an artisan terra-cotta hot chocolate pot. Price tag: $98. But that is a lot of chocolate and I knew such a chocolate pot would enjoy sitting in my home for years to come. 

Everything came wrapped up gift basket style. The chocolate pot, which was bigger than I'd pictured, sat in a bed of shredded purple paper in a big black basket-box along with the two bags of chocolate, the molinillo, and the recipe card. So while it was a gift for myself, the packaging is all set for a gift to someone else, as well. It's a special indulgence for a foodie or chocolate-lover who enjoys handcrafted pieces. 

While we did have a molinillo growing up, I don't have one now. It hasn't been high on my priority list, I suppose, because I'm usually just making single servings of hot chocolate--and a regular-sized molinillo is better suited for a larger amount of liquid. That being said, however, I'm quite happy to have one again. I was admiring anew all the little shapes of the familiar object. There was nostalgia in there for sure. 

The recipe card is for hot chocolate with cinnamon. It calls for milk and a smaller amount of cream, as opposed to the suggestion of only using cream that came with the Hot Chocolate Bomb. I had about 1/3 cup of cream left from what I'd used there, so I went ahead and used that up. I also used two cups of almond instead of milk, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and about 2.2 ounces of chocolate. The recipe card is in grams and milliliters, which I'm not so used to dealing with. So while I think I mainly stayed with the proportions (the recipe is for 6-8 servings, but I quartered it), I'm not positive on that. 

You place the chocolate into the chocolate pot and then pour the hot milk/etc. over it with the cinnamon. Here is where you'll bring in the molinillo. If you've never used one before, it's basically a wooden whisk. All the different shapes agitate the liquid to mix it up and bring up some froth. You use it by rolling the handle between your palms. On its own, it's a household object. But with the terra-cotta chocolate pot, the effect is delightful. I feel like I'm stepping back with my ancestors. Both pieces are from Verve Culture and are handmade in Mexico.

It felt more difficult to tell inside the terra-cotta if all the chocolate was melted or not. But the liquid was nice and hot, so it definitely all melted easily. The best part about having a chocolate pot is pouring it. While it may not have gone with the traditional Mexican look, I had to bring out my best teacup for the occasion. And I'm all about juxtaposition, so I found that the green teacup and the terra-cotta pot looked quite good together. 

In comparison with the Hot Chocolate Bomb, this chocolate almost tasted sweeter--in a sense. With the other, the cream with a major flavor. Here it wasn't. So here I could taste the chocolate itself more, and being that 61% cocoa content, it's a sweeter dark chocolate. I did find, though, that even using just a little cream did still add richness that was pleasant. While cinnamon is pretty neutral to me because I'm used to adding it to hot chocolate, it does add a nice dash of flavor. It's a must in such a chocolate pot, especially if you haven't had any experience with Mexican hot chocolate. 

Buying hot chocolate isn't a frequent thing for me since I just do my cocoa powder and honey (and cinnamon and maybe other spices, too) at home. I would say, though, that there is a little more dimension to this chocolate--that is, to using actual chocolate rather than simply cocoa powder. It has that semisweet chocolate flavor, and the proportions seemed good with the liquids, as well. It came out neither too thick and dark nor too sweet or watered down. So if you prefer to buy hot chocolate and you're around Prescott, this would be a good option--even when you can't get it with the cool chocolate pot. One last note on that: while the tag said the pot should keep the chocolate warm, I found that mine cooled off, so my second teacup wasn't hot. It was steaming when I started. Did I wait too long or not have enough in there? 

Either way, I'm still thrilled with my new chocolate pot. I've decided to keep it on one of my whatnot shelves (I love whatnot shelves, so I have two and wouldn't mind acquiring a third) under my cocoa pod and vintage chocolate mold (there are also turkeys on this shelf because turkeys should be around all the time, not just on Thanksgiving, nod your head even if you don't agree). Happy Christmas. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Black Butterfly: Chocolate Salami

I like novelty. I do. I also like quality. When the two intersect, that is where there is magic. Black Butterfly's Christmas pre-orders listed a Chocolate Salami, which sounded pretty cute and so I thought it would be worth trying. I just wasn't sure what I would think of its taste--chocolate filled with almonds and currants and biscotti and brandy, what would that be like?

The Chocolate Salami, in its own salami netting, is indeed very cute. Because you'll want to keep it refrigerated until you're ready to eat it, you just get it out for a bit to come to room temperature before serving. So if you were going to bring it over to someone's house, the commute time would serve as the thawing time. The netting comes off easily (I never buy real salami, so this is my only experience with it). Inside the chocolate is in the bottom of a clear bag that's folded/rolled over to fit into the casing. Being that this is just slightly cumbersome, you do have to take the whole chocolate out of the bag to serve--which is fine because you will want it all out for display, anyway.

I do recommend bringing out a cutting board for your display--whether you're having a little get-together or just partaking with your household. The chocolate salami looked quite charming on my mesquite board. The feel on my hands was like powdered sugar and fudge, and the aroma was of chocolate ganache.

The chocolate slices easily. You might only get a little stuck for half a second if the knife comes upon one of the almonds. Otherwise it's quite soft. In the slices, you can see that the composition is a soft chocolate like a ganache with slices of nuts (almonds) and fruit (black currants). There is also biscotti but I didn't really see or taste it specifically.

As far as substance, the chocolate is halfway between fudge and ganache. It's softer and smoother and richer than fudge--but also denser and with more of that crumbly-fudge-texture than is ganache. Kind of like with the Hot Chocolate Bomb from yesterday, there seems to be more cream than sugar. So while you do have the flavor of dark chocolate and its richness, the overall effect isn't super dark because there is a good amount of cream involved. 

The almonds give a nice flavor and soft crunch. The currants are little bright spots of flavor in there, too. I'll take this moment to appreciate the superiority of currants to raisins. (I can eat raisins by themselves, but I don't usually like them in anything. Currants, though, I'm always sticking in oatmeal.) They have a more interesting flavor and a chewier, less puffy texture. So while I was, as I mentioned, a little concerned about what picky-eater I would think of all sorts of things thrown into this chocolate, I needn't have worried. Side note: if your gathering has a few people, you should be able to finish it all off in one go. But if you're just a couple people, you can still put the rest of the salami back in the bag, roll it up, and even stick it back in the netting to keep it close and airtight before putting it back in the refrigerator for later. 

There is a foodie aspect to such a piece as this chocolate salami. It has that appeal. But it's also approachable. So you can go with either the silly angle or the serious angle--or both. Serve it up on an appetizer board next to cheese and fruit. Or bring it out for dessert with after-dinner drinks. Whether you're going for an elegant or casual evening, it'll fit in and be a sure palate-pleaser as well as conversation starter. I have found my new favorite kind of salami. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Black Butterfly: Hot Chocolate Bomb

New to Black Butterfly this Christmas are the Hot Chocolate Bombs. Compared with the Hot Chocolate Ornaments that serve four people, these are single serving treats. They are designed still to be like ornaments, so I put mine on my tree for a picture. A clear case wraps up with a purple ribbon and a small label that also has the instructions for making the hot chocolate. The price is $9, which is reasonable for a beautiful gift of good chocolate.

My ornament was gold: it's a sphere marked with a butterfly seal. Classic vintage for a classic Christmas. This is 61% dark chocolate, and the hollow spheres are filled with chopped chocolate and mini marshmallows. So you can gently rattle the ornament to hear its insides. The assembly is to heat milk or cream (cream is recommended for richer chocolate) and pour it over the ornament. So it's perfectly sized to fit inside a mug. I first brought out one that is just slightly smaller than standard, and while the ornament fit in, I worried that not all of the cream would, so I switched to a slightly larger mug. 

While I normally don't even use milk, I did decide to splurge on some cream for this chocolate. It is Christmas after all, eh? I heated that up in a saucepan and then began to pour it gently over the ornament inside the mug.

This is absolutely the funnest thing to watch. You would really need a video to properly portray it. First the little butterfly seal rotated to the side instead of sticking straight up. Then a spot began to melt in the ornament's surface.

That spot became bigger and then there was a sudden pop--these are called hot chocolate bombs for a reason. They explode delightfully. 

The explosion exposed the marshmallows, which quickly lifted to the top. And there I had it, the sudden appearance of a marshmallow-topped mug of chocolate. Gourmet gift this may be, it also brings out the child inside. If you want something to reawaken your awe and wonder, this'll be it.

Now as perfect as the chocolate looks at this point, you do still need to stir it (as per the instructions); the bottom half of the ornament is still unmelted even after the marshmallows rise up. While the instructions said to use 8-10 ounces of cream, I probably used about 8.5. So perhaps that's why I didn't feel like I got the chocolate to completely melt even with mixing. 

All of this time you're smelling chocolate sweet and rich at the same time. And its flavor? You remember the chocolate they drink in The Santa Clause? What you imagine that it might taste like, that is what this chocolate tastes like. The first sip was a dream, so rich and yet not overwhelming. Naturally, there is a greatly creamy texture since I did use cream. So you have the creaminess that is normally associated with milk chocolate but with the dark chocolate flavor. There is more cream than there is sugar, which tones down the darkness without making it too sweet.

And that solves one of the big conundrums of hot chocolate: I and I believe many of us don't like very dark hot chocolate (unless perhaps in small amounts of interestingly-flavored chocolate as from somewhere like Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe), but I also don't want it to taste like nothing but sugar. So this approach of chocolate that is both rich and creamy is the answer, one that should appeal to a wider variety of palates. Granted, this is specifically for making it with cream (maybe I should have bought two and tried the other with my almond standard instead of dairy just for comparison). But I went with this as the intended way of preparation. 

This chocolate is such an indulgence. It isn't so much an everyday chocolate as a special occasion treat. It instantly evokes warm and cherry Christmastime memories. Stir some up before going out to look at lights or before snuggling up under a blanket to watch or read a favorite Christmas story. It's quite a sacred beverage.

While this is one standard serving, I would have preferred to split it. So if you have tastes like mine, you can plan on sharing with a loved one. What I wouldn't recommend (which I often do with hot chocolate) would be to water it down much more than the recommended amount of milk/cream/substitute. A full serving was definitely too much for me to enjoy, but the flavors of that first half serving were flawless so I wouldn't want to mess with those proportions. 

I don't know what I was expecting from this. Something pretty, I guess. It is pretty--but it was also incredibly fun to make and delicious to sip. Score on all three points then. If it's too late this year to get one, perhaps next year place an order of one for yourself and some more for gifts. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Black Butterfly: Caramel Christmas Ornament Collection

Black Butterfly usually has some beautiful pieces for holidays throughout the year; the more detailed ones are usually put up for pre-order. I put in a Christmas order this year, and thought I might browse the shop to see if anything else caught my eye when I went to pick it up. Though Butterfly's Tracy Taylor was still setting out Christmas products (I was there a little early so I could start getting my reviews out), she brought things out to show me and so I snagged this Caramel Christmas Ornament Collection. Tracy is a genuine artist in the way she paints and decorates her chocolates, but do you see these? Gorgeous hardly seems a fitting enough word. (Though unfortunately I don't know that my camera can really pick up how they look in person.)

Inside the classic black box and purple ribbon is a pull-out tray of five ornament-shaped chocolate caramels. Not only do the ornaments have a fair amount of detail in them for such small sizes with not a single air bubble or dent in sight, but they are also covered in delicate glitter. They sparkle like no chocolates I have seen before. That is certainly a way to bring in the glitz and cheer of the season. 

I've been looking at more truffles and such than usual lately, and so I've also found myself mentioning how I tried to save what I thought would be the strongest flavors for last, starting with the most mild. There was no need for me to start guessing and thinking about that here: if you move left to right in the box (top to bottom on the little flavor list), you will move flawlessly from mildest to strongest. Attention to detail, no?

Blue - Fleur de Sel Caramel - Thank the blue for sacrificing itself to my knife for a picture. As you can see, the caramel is free-flowing. It is an elegant caramel, here tasting of vanilla seasoned with salt. The top of the shells on these chocolates is fairly thin and delicate to bite into; the bottom layers are slightly thicker. So you have the chance to enjoy the soft caramel without being bogged down by a thick shell. The chocolate is on the sweet side for dark chocolate but avoids the awkward middle range (the Black Butterfly standard is around 68%, right?). I don't notice any difference in either flavor or texture from the glittery top. This caramel is the nice and classic start to the set. 

Lavender - Muscovado Caramel - Being that this was the first one I got to bite into whole (as opposed to the knife-sliced blue caramel), here I had the full delight of breaking into the delicate shell. Thin chocolate breaking into liquid caramel--now that's a great bite. Instead of the salt seasoning from the Fleur de Sel, here there is the flavor of Muscovado sugar, thick and dark. Not only is this a great flavor, but it also evokes warm winter baking and gingerbread cookies. Because the flavor is sugar, which is already an element of caramel, the structure is mainly still simple but with boldness from the specific sugar. 

Pale Turquoise - Vanilla Caramel - This one came in quite intoxicating in flavor. The vanilla is very much that confection type that's sweet and airy--like the wafts of aroma in Main St. at Disneyland. That nostalgic vanilla. It comes as a sudden hit that ends only too soon since the caramel melts away quickly. (Which is also worth noting for all of these; there is only a small amount of time to develop flavor as compared with a slow-melting truffle. So you have to get the flavor right instantly.) It's lovely. 

Red - Cinnamon Caramel - There is a fraction of a second, and then the cinnamon comes in as a warm and baked spice as opposed to the spicy/peppery style. It's reminiscent of baked apple pie, especially paired with the caramel. There is a nice and gentle cinnamon flavor as an aftertaste. Perhaps because I've been having more experience lately with spicy cinnamon, I'm really enjoying having just a gentle and sweet cinnamon. Kind of like with the salt, only a dash of cinnamon adds flavor; it doesn't need to be super strong.

Green - Espresso Caramel - I kept waiting to get to the green ornament and trying to reach for it instead of the next in line. While all of the colors are beautiful, green is my special color. In keeping with the general style so far, the espresso here is not very strong. That is, the coffee flavor itself has strength, but it's light in proportion to the total flavors so that you can still taste the caramel and the chocolate. Once more, the whole set is designed not to overpower the palate but to provide simple-yet-still-stunning flavors. In fact, it's a nice change to have an example of a delicate coffee chocolate. 

This is a lovely box of chocolates. They are absolutely beautiful as well as unique in their look, and so lovely and balanced in flavor. Especially with my picky palate, it's rare to come across a box in which I enjoy every flavor; in the case of these, I don't even know how I would go about picking a favorite. On the one hand, you might say that there isn't necessarily anything new about these flavors, and yet on the other hand they are such a fresh and wonderful look at staples like caramel, sugar, vanilla, and salt. If these caramels were a person, they would be someone sweet and demure yet still steadfast. So if you're at Black Butterfly in the next couple of weeks, I would highly recommend the Caramel Christmas Ornaments. 

Monday, December 14, 2020

What Type of Bible to Read?

I've always read the New King James Bible, but when I saw a green King James Bible six years ago, well, I decided that maybe KJV was close enough. And then I discovered that I liked the KJV much more than the NKJV. I'd thought that the only difference was in the thees and thous, but there is more diction that's more archaic. Yet it made the lit student in me more immersed and more excited to read (it may not be the most common opinion, but I know I'm not the only one who thinks the King James is exciting).

Since then, I've read it through a couple times. And yes, I mean read through: I've been reading the Bible like a book, cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation. Do I recommend everyone read it that way, no. Is it wrong to read it that way, though, I don't see why. (Especially if you are getting exposure to the Word through other sources, like church sermons or Bible studies or other books or whatnot.) Will I always read it this way, I don't know, probably not. But for now it seems to me good. As I came through to the end this time, though, I thought perhaps to do something different.

So I decided that I would keep the cover to cover style but with a study Bible. The next question became, which study Bible? There are so many--and many will come in a couple of different translations so that you can choose the one you like best. Ultimately, though, I decided to get one that only came in NKJV, which I suppose is just as well because if I want to start memorizing verses (which I haven't really specifically set out to do much before), those do tend to sound a little . . . different if you start reciting KJV. 

Anyway. I chose The Woman's Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson. All of the designs and commentary and articles are by women with a focus on that aspects of the text that apply most specifically to women. Being that in my little experience with women's Bible study books I have found that I don't care much for the style, I did have some hesitation. But being right now just about done with Genesis, I find that that doesn't apply here. This isn't so much about commentary as about reading the text itself, with the footnotes and mini articles providing context and application as you go along. It's more keeping you awake to what you're reading than anything--as well as providing that important historical/cultural context. 

As I have been in that state of reminding myself to look to God for my identity, I have found it refreshing take up a book like this. So as we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another, if getting back into Bible reading, continuing your reading, or taking up Bible reading for the first time, don't be afraid to put some time into deciding which Bible to read. Maybe you want to read a study Bible or maybe just the text itself right now; maybe you want to be cool like me and read the King James or maybe you want to read one of the super modern translations. A big leather-bound or a mini flowery book. You do get to choose. Because we're all different personalities and all at different stages of our lives. The main thing, though, is the Word that we are all reading. 

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Theo: Eggnog White Chocolate & Peppermint Mocha Milk Chocolate

Along with the Holiday Caramel Collection from Theo, I also have these two mini holiday chocolate bars. Whenever I come upon small chocolate bars (which, you know, isn't super often), I'm delighted. The one ounce or 25 gram size makes for an easy sampler portion if you're trying out lots of different chocolates at once (as I seem to be this Christmas). It also encourages savoring chocolate as something special. And small things are cute, yes? 

As I mentioned with the caramels, the flagship store confections that you can currently buy online have a slightly different look from Theo's grocery-store-available bars. Though the paper wrappers do have a Theo look to them, the bars inside are wrapped in sax paper with a clear stick seal. So there is definitely more of a handmade aspect here, which is especially welcome for a Christmasy collection.

Starting with the Eggnog White Chocolate, I found the tiny bar divided up into two halves. The style is consistent with Theo's standard bars, just shrunk down to the small size and therefore only broken up twice. You can get one bite or four out of each piece, depending on your bite size (I'm four). The white surface shows little speckles, which often in white chocolate will be vanilla but in this case there might be some cinnamon and nutmeg visible, too, perhaps. 

The aroma is creamy white chocolate and nutmeg. The flavor, too, develops with primarily nutmeg leading the spices; I don't notice the cinnamon as much. There is creamy richness from the white chocolate and the sugar. White chocolate uniquely out of any chocolate can give that thick flavor and texture of eggnog without too many added flavors. There is a warm spiced aftertaste, as well. So flavor-wise, this is a pleasant eggnog chocolate. Texture-wise, though, it is somewhat grainy, as white chocolate can sometimes be. That would be the one drawback. And I would of course prefer a little graininess to the texture than to have the, um, fake white chocolate that is made out of sugar and oil. 

Next we have the Peppermint Mocha, which is made with Theo's 45% milk chocolate. This time it's coffee that you can see within the chocolate. No surprises with the aroma here: it's coffee and peppermint and chocolate. The creaminess of the chocolate hits instantly on the tongue. Theo's 45% milk chocolate is, after all, one of the best milk chocolates out there. This is followed closely by peppermint and then by the coffee. There is a slight crunch from the coffee grounds but otherwise it's smooth. 

Because this is a milk chocolate, you easily have the cream/milk element as well as the sugar of a mixed coffee drink. The peppermint flavor here is slightly lighter than it was in the Peppermint Mocha Caramel because here there is more milk chocolate and that weighs more heavily on the flavor. So the peppermint stays dancing on the edges, enveloping your mouth rather than stays in the center of the attention. This is a latte with the tangy sweetness of peppermint added--or I should say a cafe mocha (because of the chocolate) with peppermint to it. On its own, I would probably have said it was a great peppermint mocha. But having tasted the caramel first, I would say that one made the imitation more closely. Coffee beverage effect aside, though, this is still pretty good. 

So once more, whether your plan is to give these as mini gifts, add them to a gift basket/box, have them as favors at a get-together, stick them in stockings, or eat them yourself, these are pretty little chocolate bars with classic winter flavors carried out with quality. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Theo: Holiday Caramel Collection

Normally I don't order chocolate online. In fact, I usually try not to do a lot of online ordering in general (this year I keep making Shop Disney purchases but let's not talk about that, shall we?), and with chocolate, well, there is a whole world available online. It's enough to swim in, so I just keep things simple and stick to what I find in person (unless occasionally there is something I really want to order, like Valentine's Day chocolates from Valerie Confections).

This year is a little different, though. Theo has been offering this year some confection options online that they normally only sell in their Seattle store (usually it's just the bars that you see for sale in grocery stores all over). I'll have some of those coming up at some point after I get through the Christmas reviews. Naturally, being currently in the greater Phoenix area, I had to wait until the weather cooled down enough to order chocolate. So I also picked up three Christmas offerings from Theo, starting with this Holiday Caramel Collection box.

The confections that you might order from Theo have more of the small business, handmade look versus the polished, standard look of the grocery store bars. Not to say that these don't look polished, but you get my meaning. The box of caramels is red with white star outlines. There's a little To/From box on the side, all ready for gifting. To open, just slide the inner box out of the sleeve of the outer box.

Inside there, a dozen caramels sit in individual compartments. Little tabs of paper open up between each one so that they don't brush up against one another; it's a unique packaging design that I can't remember ever seeing before. It's also a great idea: it fulfills the purpose of keeping the chocolates in place without using a plastic tray. And it also somehow adds to the cuteness of the little rounded squares. They look like Christmas cookies all decked out in their sugar and icing. 

Sesame (Milk Chocolate) - This is the plainest of the four flavors; it comes decorated with just a couple of sesame seeds on top. While Sesame doesn't scream Christmastime to me, I started with this one because I figured it would be the plainest flavor and therefore would keep my palate clean for the others. Turns out, too, that it's a good way to start because the milder flavor really allows the caramel to shine. It's a chewy yet also quite soft caramel; there seems to be chocolate in it, as well. The sesame flavor came in from the start with its roasted, nutty, seed flavor. There was also a hint of salt. A nice and warm chocolate caramel to begin the set with.

Apple Cider (Dark Chocolate) - Here you'll find the full coating of sugar on top of the chocolate. That isn't a look I see--in fact, I don't think I've ever seen it. It's quite lovely and nostalgic. The sugar creates a delicate hint of crunch as you bite in. Then you discover a warm apple flavor together with the rich chocolate and the sweetness of the caramel. It's like biting into an apple pie. When I heard cider, I was thinking of alcohol, but this is like nonalcoholic apple cider, freshly pressed. The apple flavor is strong and fresh like baked apples. The dark chocolates is a fairly thin layer so it doesn't add a lot of flavor, but being that this is Theo I don't have the hesitancy around its use I've been having lately with some of the mediocre, sweet dark chocolates I've been coming across. This is good chocolate, so anything that it adds is positive. The overall effect of this caramel is excellent. 

Gingersnap (Milk Chocolate) - The icing for this one gives the effect of a gingerbread man, though I suppose gingersnaps are a separate type of cookie--and the taste is definitely different from a gingerbread cookie. There is some sense of other spices, but ginger is in the center. And while the chocolate and caramel are there, again it's the ginger that's the main player. It's a strong and fresh ginger taste, too--great if you like ginger, but for myself I would preferred more of a gingerbread flavor to simply ginger. 

Peppermint Mocha (Milk Chocolate) - A half dose of sprinkles decorate this chocolate's top; they are coffee grounds with a tad of sugar. Because the coffee is right there on top, you can taste it instantly as you begin to bite in. The peppermint comes next, then more coffee accompanied by the chocolate and its sweetness and creaminess. The effect, then, is much like that of a peppermint mocha. That is, a good one that's freshly made with peppermint and cream and not made from syrup. The aftertaste is, naturally, creamy, sweet, and slightly minty with light coffee. Absolutely lovely and an excellent representation of a peppermint mocha. 

I had no idea what to expect getting caramel chocolates from Theo, and I'm quite delighted with what I found in this set. The caramel itself was good, as was the presentation. As you can tell, the Apple Cider and Peppermint Mocha were definitely my favorites of the four. The latter I call the best of the box. For Christmastime and wintertime flavors, my palate found just the right indulgence in these caramels.