Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Far From It All

 Did it truly take me four years to get around to reading Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd? For a movie I enjoyed so greatly (click here for my post on it), that does seem like a while, and yet perhaps it isn't so long in the grand scheme of things. 

As I mentioned there, my only previous experience reading Hardy was with Jude the Obscure--and even that was over ten years ago in college. I've heard about Tess of the D'Ubervilles (I have to read that one out of sheer curiosity someday). Watching the 2015 film (the 1998 version isn't bad either, which is surprising to me considering how many rotten versions of Jane Eyre there are but I digress) was like watching so many of the best Victorian novel elements put together. And reading it was much the same.

Victorian novels vary in their readability to the modern reader. I always like to pick on Charles Dickens because even though he's one of the most household names, he tends to go off on long tangents about random scenes or characters that fill in space more than add to the story. Or depending on who it is, sometimes instead of beautiful, descriptive imagery, you can feel like you're just reading really long passages of description. (And I say this as someone who highly enjoys the Victorian novel and finds many exceptions to these "complaints.") But Far From the Madding Crowd is greatly readable. 

The descriptions in here always feel relevant and vivid and emotional. There is that passionate vein to the storytelling that of course was borderline inappropriate to the prim Victorians and is just enough to make it exciting to read. The story is simple and the setting is intentionally commonplace (to readers at the time, since of course 19th century English rural farmland is not commonplace to a modern, American reader, but you get my meaning). That's what makes it feel real. 

Hardy uses such stirring descriptions of character and the way that different people respond to circumstances and to love. I still consider Jane Eyre one of my favorite books, but I remember picking up my copy one day excited to look at it with a new perspective and feeling disappointed, thinking to myself, this isn't love (which is okay because Jane Eyre isn't really a love story--the love story happy ending is just the fantasy element of it, but I digress again). But this. Thomas Hardy described all of our confusing thoughts and emotions (and even actions) towards the concept of love. 

Love, according to this story, is something that grows. One can mistake sudden and passionate feelings for love. One may be able to build love out of respect and attraction. But the best love comes from growing alongside someone. Love is not just feeling; love is action. Love is not naivety; love is understanding. Bathsheba goes on quite a journey to understand all this. While you could write piles of scholarly papers on this book, I am simply writing a blog post. So I'll leave it at that for now. Far From the Madding Crowd is a greatly enjoyable love story to read. I do love vivid emotions and nature imagery; they are what make Victorian novels my favorites. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

What Do You See?

 It's been a while since I did this, but how about we talk today in one sentence about two random films that have nothing to do with each other and that probably no one else has even seen?

The two films are 2012's Liberal Arts and 2016's The Lion Woman (which is a Norwegian film that started playing on my stream with English dubbed dialogue that I quickly changed to original dialogue with English subtitles). The common link between them is image, how you perceive both yourself and others and also how they perceive you.

The Norwegian movie is about a girl who is born with a condition that leaves thick hair all over her body. Her father tries to keep her secluded from the world, but of course you can only really do that for so long. And when you do venture out into the world, most people don't react well. So Eva grows up knowing that she is different and that people will never see her as anything else. And yet somehow the journey she goes on is not fantastical at all but is really just the journey so many people go on of finding comfort with themselves physically and learning that their identity is formed by the choices they make, the things they choose to do, and the way they live their lives. Eva finds her place in the world and is known for her mind and her contributions to mathematics, not for her fuzzy skin. (That sounds so funny to say. This seems like a weird movie to watch when you give a synopsis, but it's pretty good.)

Now to Liberal Arts, which shows a 35 year old falling for a 19 year old when he goes back to visit his old college campus. It's about his eventual realization that he's 35 and that's a perfectly fine place to be and also a very different place from being 19. I might also add here that this is an interesting movie to watch at 28/29 because I'm still in the middle of both ages, closer to his but not quite there yet. So who knows, maybe I'm even more wavering between the two places than he was. 

What I did like about this movie was a certain line in there. Or a couple of lines. When Jesse talks to Peter at the end, he tells him to set aside that book (which they both love) because the author ended his life. He tells him to live a long life, that that's a better arc. He also talks a little with Ana about age. And it's that concept of, what is wrong with age? Absolutely nothing. Age and aging mean that you are living your life, and that is good. 

They only barely touched on the physical aspects of aging since the movie was more about the different mental perspectives we tend to have at different times in our lives. But the concept is still in there--and that's where I got my connection to the Norwegian movie. What do you look like and how does it affect your life? There are the things you cannot change that will stay with you forever. And there are the things that do change and develop with time. What do you see it as? What do other people see it as? 

Live a life in which you can be seen because if we are visible there is nothing wrong with being seen. But live also a life in which you are seen for who you are, what you think, what you do, and what you decide, not just what you look like. That's my takeaway from watching these two movies in close proximity. 

Friday, August 7, 2020

Nordi: Hazelnut & Campsite Coffee Dark Chocolate

Finnish chocolate I do believe is a first for me. And so this chocolate bar from Nordi is exactly the type of thing I like to find at World Market, rather than the World Market brand chocolate or Ghirardelli or Lindt that you can buy anywhere. Those chocolates must sell better, though, because I've noticed in recent years that they will typically only sell "new try" chocolates like this one (whether from a U.S. company or from abroad) for a limited time. It used to be they would carry something for a year and then trade out again the next year. Now things seem to be a little different depending on the brand. Point being, get the chocolate you want when you see it: you might see it again but you also might not.

The packaging here definitely has more of a European look with those shades of blue and even the font. And I suppose the campsite up in the snow and pine is Finland. I have never been camping in Finland, so I won't be able to say whether this Hazelnut & Campsite Coffee Dark Chocolate reminds me of a Finnish camping trip. I also did not yet drink coffee the last time I went camping, so I don't have any ideas beforehand of campsite-specific coffee. Nor do hazelnuts really remind me of camping. Maybe the hazelnuts don't have to do with camping, though, just with coffee since they are commonly added to coffee?

While the foil inside the card box doesn't necessarily remind me of the look of the outer packaging, it is great foil. It's regular silver on the inside with a pattern of black and grey arches on the outside. That look continues onto the chocolate bar. Different sizes of rectangles have either those same arches or a mild, dotted texture only visible from up close. The look uniquely combines the sharper approach of geometry with the softness of the arches. 

On the back of the bar, some of the pale hazelnuts are visible peeking through the chocolate. And the coffee aroma is wonderful. I've come across other chocolate bars with a strong coffee aroma, but this feels different somehow. It feels more like literally walking into Firecreek Coffee in Flagstaff and getting that wave of strong, freshly ground coffee (side note: if you are ever in Flagstaff or you see their coffee for sale in a nearby store, Firecreek really does have amazing coffee). 

The texture of the coffee is slightly hard--the expiration date of 10/27/20 is getting close. If World Market was anticipating only selling a small amount of these in a small amount of time, the time that they were closed and that people were shopping less even after they'd opened probably threw things off as far as expiration dates. (World Market already has an issue with trying to guess what people will buy before the expiration dates come up, which is why they always have so much clearance food that's so close to expiration or already expired--and why am I getting off on so many tangents today?)

The hazelnuts don't seem to add a lot of flavor, just a light crunch to the texture. I do like hazelnuts; normally, though, I associate them more with milk chocolate. I think also that I zeroed in on them first as far as flavor search because a curious thing happens with the chocolate and coffee in this bar. They meld into one flavor, each indistinguishable from the other. So it seemed easier to consider the hazelnuts first.

I would use the comparison of a cafe mocha as chocolate and coffee blending well together--except that those are very sweet and milky. So perhaps an affogato (espresso poured over gelato) made with chocolate gelato would be a better way of putting it. It's that strong taste of the coffee that puts espresso in mind. Yet it isn't exactly that eat bite is strongly full of coffee; it's that the coffee taste that is in each bite is strong coffee. If you get my drift. I can't say how the chocolate tastes on its own because it so linked with the coffee.

I don't mean to imply that this chocolate has no sweetness. It contains 70% cocoa (which comes with the Non-GMO Project and Responsible Cocoa labels) and comes in at the sweeter angle for that percentage. There is also a sense of creaminess to it that also adds to my affogato comparison. The hazelnuts, then, I suppose keep it all light and casual. I'm still not entirely sure what campfire coffee means. But it's good.

This is an enjoyable chocolate bar. I would be open to trying more from Nordi if I were to come across them again, though based on this bar I also wouldn't categorize them as a don't-miss company. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Land Before Time & The Search for What Is Missing

It isn't that I haven't watched The Land Before Time since I was a child. But the last time being at some point when I was in college, it had still been probably ten years since I had sat down to this movie--up until last night, that is. 

This movie has that muddy and dark animation that was so common in the 70's and 80's--and it's used here to great effect. Like with say, The Rescuers or The Black Cauldron, the literal dark coloration also goes along with the dark content. The movie isn't really about dinosaurs because it doesn't really teach anything about them, especially with the perspective of 32 years later (the T-Rex didn't stand like Godzilla, for one). Instead, it's about a young boy who loses his mother and has to go on a journey to find the rest of his family. Along the way, he meets unlikely friends who are very different from him. But their differences make them a stronger team as they strive together for what seems like an unattainable, though also absolutely necessary, goal.

The difference between the dinosaurs you can of course apply to any differences. To gender: it's Littlefoot and Cera who first meet. To race: Cera's father tells her that three-horns don't play with long-necks. To personality: Ducky and Petrie both having some timidity benefit from Littlefoot's leadership skills. Whatever differences you look at, the children use it to make them stronger as a group. They overcome obstacles by working together, each doing what they uniquely can do. Sometimes Cera's physical strength is just what they need or other times it's Ducky's swimming. A complete whole formed by unique, unified pieces.

What are they working towards? Their journey to the Great Valley to find their families and food is a practical one with a definite end. But it's basically an analogy for the journey of life. And that journey keeps on for a lifetime: we are constantly working towards that something. In a sense, we never really reach the Great Valley during our lives: our lives here are the journey. We're meeting people, forming relationships, overcoming obstacles, and keeping up hope. We remember the signs and keep moving forward to what is missing, to what we know is ahead. 

Maybe that's why The Land Before Time became so popular. Not just because everybody loves dinosaur but because the story, in a wonderfully archetypal way, is in fact quite deep. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Black Butterfly: KaBoom

Let's finish Black Butterfly week with a boom, shall we? Or a pop, I should say. Or many little pops. 

That's right, this red, white, and blue chocolate comes equipped with pop rocks, fitting it right into July/Independence month. I've had chocolate-covered pop rocks before (that was back when I was at Chocablog), but that was nine years ago and I'm not certain if I ever did have any within a chocolate bar. I couldn't be scared away, though, because this bar looks so fun that it makes the idea of pop rocks sound like a party.

Red, white, and blue splashes decorate the pale surface on one side to create a colorful confetti. That's all I saw when it was in the package, so that was all I was expecting. Flipping it over, though, I found an equally energetic look with generously-sized, freeze-dried strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Wondering about the KaBoom? If you look closely, you can see little green crystals--those are the ones that go kaboom. 

While I realize why white chocolate generally gets relegated to low-end, sugary candy and confections, I do greatly enjoy a good white chocolate. So the idea of white chocolate here was quite welcome, though the packaging doesn't specifically label it as white chocolate--or as anything. The ingredients show something interesting: 34% cacao is the first ingredient (which is subdivided into more ingredients, the first of which is cacao liquor) and additional cacao butter comes in as the last ingredient. To clarify if you're unfamiliar with all the terms, white chocolate does not contain cocoa solids, only cocoa butter. And chocolate liquor contains both cocoa solids and cocoa butter. So technically speaking then, this does not seem to be white chocolate. But the amount of cocoa solids is so low that it looks and tastes like white chocolate. So that's what I'll consider it.

Now, for my first bite, I thought I had gotten out free without any popping, but they came in for the party once the chocolate was mostly melted away. Being white chocolate, it of course melts quickly. And the berries also encourage you to chew rather than let the chocolate sit in your mouth, and that also speeds things up. So generally by the time the chocolate and berries are fading, that's when the popping begins. 

I have tried to bite in slower, but that's hard to do with the big berries and also makes for generally less enjoyment of the white chocolate. So just go ahead and eat it like normal and allow the bubbling, kaboom effect to come as the afterparty. Pop rocks are one of the strangest things that we choose to eat. Yet I wouldn't say that these were as distracting to the experience of the berry chocolate as I'd feared they might be. (Has anyone been to the dentist in the last couple months? Part of the precautions at my dentist included swishing hydrogen peroxide in your mouth when you arrive. The pop rocks here reminded me of the bubbling hydrogen peroxide between my teeth. Fun times, fun times.)

Going back to those berries, though, like I said, they are generously-sized and plentiful. Being so full of flavor, they go well with the white chocolate and create that berries and cream effect. If this chocolate weren't so full of pop rocks, I'd be tempted to devour it in one go. 

So no, I wouldn't want pop rocks in chocolate to become a normal thing. Just every once in a while. This was a fun chocolate to try out. The red, white, and blue in July brought up Independence Day and fireworks. And the pop rocks brought a little excitement into my life. KaBoom!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Black Butterfly: Patagonian Super Berry Tea

Today's chocolate bar from Black Butterfly includes more tea from Nectar Apothecary. Nectar is still open, by the way, you just have to order by phone now instead of going into the store. So you can place your order, stop into Black Butterfly for some chocolate, and then by that point your order should be ready to pick up at Nectar. Snazzy, eh?

This tea is the Patagonian Super Berry Tea, sprinkled once more on the 61% dark chocolate. I have to choose the bars whose flavors appeal to me, not just the ones with the colors I like best. But this one definitely drew my eye, as well. The even, red scatters remind me of a Victorian, poplin fabric in a pretty floral. In fact, the floral allusion means that this bar would go particularly well with a bouquet of flowers if anyone is in the gifting mode. (Let me here note that the chocolate's color appears much lighter in the pictures than in person.)

Opening up the black sleeve reveals that familiar sweet dark chocolate aroma. While the lower cocoa content generally goes well with the style of these bars, I also wouldn't mind sometimes going a little darker. Hmmm. I now find myself uncertain whether or not there often tend to be milk chocolate bars in this style. I did also pick up a white chocolate bar this time, but that isn't common. I guess all this is to say that while this dark chocolate is fine, I do welcome some variation, too. 

I immediately tasted the zing of the berries on biting in--especially because I bit right into the middle instead of going for a corner. I wanted to dig in to the tea right from the start. What's interesting is that while the tea layer did at first seem much more even than in the Patagonian Wild Guava Tea bar, the layer is also much thinner. So while you're more likely to get tea in each bite, you're also getting less than with that thick snake swirl in the other bar. I don't say this as either criticism or even praise; it's just different. And I do like that. 

Each of these bars looks different, whether because it has tea or chunks of ginger or because it's red or blue or because it has an even sprinkling or a patterned one. So then each one is a different experience, a different layering of visual, texture, and flavor elements. 

The exact components of the Patagonian Super Berry Tea are maqui berries, blueberries, raspberries, red wine grape skins, Hawthorne leaves, currants, and natural flavorings. While I can't necessarily distinguish each from the other, I do notice that some bites have more of a zing than others. Being that this is a tea that all of these berries come from, the experience of eating them is a tad different from the usual appearance of raspberries in chocolate bars. They have the feeling of being smaller, whether or not that is in fact true.

I do notice that sometimes I find a very hard and crunchy texture. On examining what was causing this crunch, I found what appeared to be a small, round seed, something like a smooth peppercorn. I'm not familiar with maqui berries, so perhaps this is what their seeds look like? These crunches are a little distracting, but not too much.

And I guess even that is part of the fun. These teas seem to add the advantage of common ingredients (like raspberries) with less common ones. So it gives an exploratory feel, a sense of trying something new while still getting a comforting bar of sweet dark chocolate. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Black Butterfly: Sour Cherry Vanilla & Cardamom Rose

Since I still seem to be having trouble putting out other blog content, let's just go ahead and talk about Black Butterfly all week long, shall we?

After explaining why it's often difficult to review the chocolate truffles/bonbons from Black Butterfly, today I do have two of them to share. I kept it simple with just the two and you know, it worked out quite wonderfully because both of these turned out to be, not only new flavors to me, but also chocolates after my own heart.

The look of these two is perhaps simpler than some of her work, yet they're still beautiful. The Cardamom Rose is the one on the left. It comes in a rose petal shade of pink with a bolt of pearly lighting going across. Elegant and feminine. The Sour Cherry Vanilla has deep hot pink color with more of the pearly white. In normal times, you can take chocolate making classes at Black Butterfly. Somehow I think, though, that even with lessons it would take me a while to be able to paint chocolate as beautifully, even with simple looks like this.

We'll start with the Sour Cherry Vanilla. There is a vanilla ganache topped with the cherry element. So it is much like a gourmet take on a cherry cordial without the whole cherry. The dark chocolate gives a sweet element--in a positive way since cherry and vanilla are on the sweeter side of things. Yet you wouldn't want to do this with milk chocolate. The cherry isn't at all sour to me, whether because I'm tasting it alongside the vanilla and the chocolate or because I recently bought a bottle of sour cherry juice from Lakewood Organic (they do the 100%, not from concentrate juices) and that was sour. Cherry and vanilla have a comforting, somewhat nostalgic feel. So this chocolate was greatly enjoyable.

Now for the Cardamom Rose. I had just been observing that most chocolate makers don't seem to be doing much with rose lately. Lavender, yes, but not rose. And I do love rose. Rose oil, rose tea, rose lemonade, rose Turkish Delight, rose soap, rose shampoo, and rose chocolate. So I guess Tracy Taylor heard me because she pointed this one out as a new flavor.

The sides and top of this chocolate are white chocolate, while the bottom layer is milk chocolate. When paired with the white chocolate, the cardamom is sweet. The rose is light rather than strong. I mean, I wouldn't mind more of a rose cream, something like that, in the future, something that can highlight just the rose. But that isn't a complaint against this current chocolate: it's lovely.

Because of the cardamom, the effect is like a sweet chai tea, soft and feminine. The white chocolate stands in for the milk and the milk chocolate is I suppose the black tea element. Spices and flowers plus milk and sugar. More gentle than strong, even though cardamom can be a strong spice.

Which of these two you prefer will depend on your own flavor preferences. Both, though, will make an excellent choice if you find yourself by Black Butterfly. Must keep our small businesses in business. Coming up later I'll have two more flavored chocolate bars, as well.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Alter Eco: Grass Fed Milk Chocolate

At first it just sounded like an interesting concept. Grass Fed Milk chocolate. I mean, when I buy beef, I buy grass fed--so why not include that as a marketing tag in chocolate, too? I wondered if it would be different in flavor from their regular milk chocolate. Making positive changes in ingredients is a good thing even if it doesn't noticeably affect flavor, but if flavor isn't noticeably changed then it might not be worth me doing a separate review, see?

Then, though, I realized that I don't seem to have ever reviewed milk chocolate from Alter Eco. Which then caused me to realize that I don't remember ever seeing milk chocolate from them before. (If this seems unknowledgeable of me, remember that I've been reviewing chocolate for eleven years. That's a lot of chocolate to try and memorize.) Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe the Grass Fed Milk line is their first foray into milk chocolate (though one of their dark chocolates is 47% cocoa and this milk chocolate comes in at 46%, which is pretty close). That's exciting, then, the concept that they started off with just dark and now feel like they've found a comfortable way to approach milk.

And they who provide the milk are Swiss cows from open pastures in the Alpine Valleys. In case you were wondering.

The aroma is certainly rich and milky, as you might expect from milk chocolate that is both Swiss and of a higher cocoa content. The flavor, though, has kind of a dulled out cocoa taste, almost watery. That is to say, it isn't as rich as I tend to expect from a darker milk chocolate. Yet it also isn't quite as sweet as I'd expected from the aroma.

So what is it then if not chocolatey or sugary? Milky, I suppose. The mild dark chocolate flavor combined with this makes this chocolate bar not entirely unlike a scoop of chocolate ice cream. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I favor.

I do also notice a certain taste that makes me think of Hershey's, not so much a Hershey's bar but a Hershey's Kiss or something like that (the thickness makes a big difference for flavor). Along with the raw cane sugar, cocoa beans, cocoa butter, and whole milk, you will also find butterfat in the ingredients of this chocolate bar. And butterfat is of course something that Hershey's also uses. So perhaps it's that extra fatty milkiness that I'm tasting? Granted, it is better than a Hershey's bar. If you enjoy Hershey's, you'll probably quite like this one. The line at the bottom of the card box does after all, say "creamy nostalgic smooth." And Hershey's is nostalgic.

For myself, however, I'm less than thrilled about that association. Usually when I get a milk chocolate bar, I gobble it up much quicker than the dark chocolates. But this one has been sitting around for a few days without being attacked. Of course, Alter Eco still gets points for their positive values and ingredients and this chocolate is better than other fair trade milk chocolates on the market (am I pointing too closely at Equal Exchange?). It's worth trying out to see your personal opinion on it. But I'd much rather reach for something from Theo, for instance.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Beatrix the Nature-Lover

We all know Beatrix Potter as the creator of Peter Rabbit--both the text and illustrations. Yet I think the impression today of her work is that it is pretty and cutesy. After all, her children's books are about bunnies and mice and hedgehogs and tea and gardens and flowers. Cutesy things, right? And all her pictures of animals are pretty, right?

While I'm not saying that this isn't true, it is also worth recalling that her work is also extremely detailed and accurate. She studied plants and animals in order to copy them down realistically. So the cuteness isn't because she made the bunnies' eyes huge and colored their fur in pink and purple; it's because they are cute animals and she captures the spirit of their movement and ways of being.

The Art of Beatrix Potter by Emily Zach has been sitting on my shelf without a complete, cover-to-cover read for a couple of years now. It came out in 2016 and that may very well be the year in which I acquired it. This book emphasizes Beatrix's interests in the natural world at different points in her life. She observed the landscapes in the country at the various places she visited. At one point, mushrooms were her primary interest. At another, she was able to delve more into fossils.

Animals, though, animals were always big for her. She kept pets from a child to an adult and observed them alongside animals out in the wild. I knew this. (Miss Potter, by the way, if you've yet to see it, is a lovely biopic that might not go into all the details of her life, but does paint a nice picture of a slice of her story.) Yet in reading this book, I was reminded of that sense of realism and accurate details in her illustrations.

Yes, Peter's blue jacket may be fantasy, but that's the point. She adds in the whimsical details to a rabbit who otherwise still looks like a rabbit. Her stories are charming and witty or simply entertaining. But the settings are meant to be familiar. I suppose I may also not have noticed that being that I did not grow up around English gardens. The plants and animals I grew up seeing were different--so Beatrix Potter's bunnies and ducks and cats went right along with the cutesy impression of tea parties and turn-of-the-century dresses. (That's another side note: the style of the clothing today adds to that impression, but when she did the illustrations she was mainly just drawing clothing of her time, with some exceptions like The Tailer of Gloucester, which was set in the 18th century, right? Oh, we really could talk all day about how the original intent of an artistic work changes almost drastically over a hundred years.)

So this book gives quite a different appreciation for her work. It would also be particularly interesting if you are also an artist/illustrator because you can see studies that she did for specific books or animals. You get more of an idea of all the work that took place in order to get to the final product that we have all seen.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Dominican Elvesia 70%

Now would be a good time to draw attention again to the handmade paper that Zak's Chocolate uses to wrap up their bars. Obviously I wish to draw attention to it with this particular bar because green is  usually my color of choice, so this green and gold packaging I find especially attractive. It also goes well with the light blue foil paper inside.

Today's bar is the Dominican Elvesia 70%. Elvesia didn't sound familiar to me (not that I know every cocoa plantation by name, but names start to at least ring a bell after a while), so I might also turn your attention to this article from Taza if you're interested in reading more about the particular area and its cocoa.

As this chocolate begins to melt, it has something of a muddy flavor, nice and chocolatey. This quickly becomes intoxicating with a fruit flavor like dried banana nut or the like. A little more of a zing follows, then smoothens out again. So while it's fruity, it isn't so bright and citrusy as some fruity chocolates are. This one is more mellow, deeper, and more sensual. After you pass the halfway point, the flavor becomes creamy with delicate chocolate flavor. The zing plays slightly on the edges and the finish once more is delicate.

The flavor notes are tropical fruits and earthy maple. Well, banana is a tropical fruit and muddy is earthy, so I came to a similar description. Now, going back to the creaminess I described, dare I call this chocolate a dark chocolate for milk chocolate people? (Not to say that dark chocolate people won't like it, just that milk chocolate people might find it more appealing than they generally find dark chocolate.) It's an extremely inviting dark chocolate, such that I imagine it would appeal to a wide range of palates.

Unless perhaps I'm just saying that because I'm enjoying it so much. But since I was able to do a side by side with the Peru Maranon 80% from last week, I can't say that I liked that one less than this one. They're both great, just different. This one is more nuanced, while also being obviously a lower cocoa percentage and therefore slightly more towards the sweeter side. It's the type of chocolate I'd be excited to share with someone new to artisan chocolate. It'll take you on a beautiful flavor journey.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

The Belonging You Seek

I was walking.

I picked up some flowers.

I spread them on the earth.

They grew into a ladder.

I started climbing but my ladder began to fall.

So I spread my wings and flew instead.

"The belonging you seek is not behind you. It is ahead," so said Maz to Rey in The Force Awakens. And so Rey pushed on forward into the new life she was discovering and in so doing she learned the answers about her past that she was seeking and she found her place in life and in herself. She learned her identity--and that it had nothing to do with her past.

When Jesus healed the man at the pool, he said to him, "Rise, take up thy bed, and walk" (John 5:8). What do free writing, Star Wars, and a Bible verse have in common? Just some musings on what it means to walk. Do you ever marvel at physically walking? If you've ever been bedridden in your life, maybe you have; the rest of us, perhaps not so much. But if you try and think about your steps, it's difficult to--and it's strange to walk naturally and get to your designation if you're busy thinking about all the muscles that have to move for each step and all the places where you have placed your feet before. But if you just watch where you're going and keep your eyes ahead, the walking is natural and not so strange.

Midweek musings, musings.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Peru Maranon 87%

I felt certain that I had reviewed Zak's Chocolate's Peru Maranon bar before--until I checked against my labels and didn't see it. Checking for Peru Maranon, though, brings up the one from Ritual Chocolate that I looked at last August. That one came in at a standard 75% cacao, while this Zak's bar is 87%. You can buy it from them in 70%, as well, or even the three bar flight that also includes a 99.9%. Usually the 80's range is what I gravitate toward when it's available (I say when because for most companies, 70-some is the standard).

The smooth and silvery chocolate aroma I once again wanted to describe as smoky yet still found the word not quite right. As the chocolate begins to melt, there is a light bitterness that develops into a lightly deep taste; it is rich and earthy. The flavor softens, with a tang on the edges, before coming to a delicate finish, especially for something that began with that feathery bitterness.

Granted, of course, the bitterness varies depending on when in the day you eat it. I always take my initial notes on chocolate around 11:00 in the morning; at 8:00 PM I still got about the same flavor, but there was zero bitterness in the early afternoon.

I suppose I'm rambling in order to say that while I use the word bitter, I would not call this a bitter bar of chocolate. It's rich and loamy, like what the trees were eating at the feast at the end of Prince Caspian (surely there are Narnia people still out there who get the reference, right?). That makes for a fascinating flavor: at once simple and chocolatey while also textured. Quite similar, then, to the effect I'd observed in Ritual's chocolate, as well, just stronger here because of the higher cocoa content. As for any more comparison between the two bars, I'd have to have them side by side or at least be looking at them with less time than nearly a year in between.

I'd recommend this particular chocolate bar for when you're wanting classic, rich chocolate flavor with an edge to it. This bar highlights that slightly higher cocoa percentage well, allowing for deeper chocolate flavor without strong bitterness.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Diet Is a Noun

When I was in first grade, we had to do a report on an animal of our choosing. My favorite animal at the time was a horse, so my mom helped me make a barn and I hot glued one of my toy horses into the setup (hot glue being perfect because after the report is done, it just peels right off without damaging the toy). We also had to write out certain facts on our chosen animal: habitat and diet, things like that. Diet, yes, that means what they eat.

I think perhaps our everyday vocabulary too often forgets that diet isn't just a verb; it's a noun, and not just a noun referring to the verb. Everyone who eats has a diet, but that doesn't mean that you're "dieting." So being aware of your diet as "how you eat" is something that we can all do.

This is why I've been focusing not so much on things to not eat as on things to eat. Instead of focusing on not eating, for instance, potatoes, which I used to always buy, I've been enjoying berries. Who even knew I enjoyed berries? I always said, I don't like berries, do you want the berries off of my dessert? But the berries I've been buying are pretty nice.

I guess it was like that with a lot of things, though. I only recently starting eating artichokes; now I'm rather in love with them. It took a while to warm up to asparagus, that elegant vegetable. Growing up, I used to always eat each bite of salmon with some salad greens because I didn't really like the salmon otherwise; now I forget the history behind that and think that it's just flavor pairing. Some things you just have to get used to.

Not that you need to get used to everything. Tomatoes I cannot eat because I simply don't like them--and fittingly enough, I now find that tomatoes, even in things like sauces, probably aren't a suggested food for me personally. Dandelion greens would be very healthy, but even my bearded dragon doesn't eat those; I thought arugula was strong until the day I tried dandelion greens.

I simply mean to say, enjoy eating good things. Food makes such a difference, as does out attitude towards it. Find what foods are healthy towards you personally and eat them. There are so many foods in the world (especially if you're living in a country where you can walk into a store and pretty much buy whatever food you can think of), so don't focus on the ones you're not eating; focus on the ones that you are enjoying. When I did that report in first grade, I didn't list all the foods that horses don't eat; I just wrote down what they do eat.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Songs of Change

Last fall, I was keeping close the Hillsong United song "Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)." Consider those words: "Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, where my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior." Those are powerful words; don't say them idly.

As 2020 began, it was Michael W. Smith's "Waymaker." This song is about declaring who God is and then letting him take you where you will go. The declaration: "You are waymaker, miracle worker, promise keeper, light in the darkness, my God, that is who you are." The promise: "Even when I don't see it you're working, even when I don't feel it you're working, you never stop, you never stop working." Early on, it was clear to me that 2020 was a bridge year for me; it began when I asked to go where I could not go on my own. And where I am now I could not have gone on my own--and I'm still not all the way across that bridge.

2020 has affected us all in different ways and yes, even for different reasons. Most of us, though, have felt that 2020 is unique from other years. So what do we do with that?

Well, we keep our eyes heavenward and let the bridge take us where we can't go on out own. And if you're wanting louder music than the two songs previously mentioned, I've also been listening to Skillet a lot lately, so might I suggest "Terrify the Dark" or "Breaking Free."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

GoodPop: Chocolate Fudge

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

In celebration, I thought I would give a nod to some ice cream in the form of the organic, vegan, gluten-free, fair trade Chocolate Fudge Pops from GoodPop. As I've mentioned, it's nice to see more types of products, not just chocolate bars, making an effort to join the fair trade movement.

While I don't drink milk, I also don't buy ice cream very often, so when I do I've usually just been buying regular ice cream. I'm thinking now, though, to go back to the non-dairy options. That section of the store has changed, though, since I last took a good look at it. It used to be all about soy ice cream and now there seemed to hardly be any made with soy. It's all about the coconut cream now. And I'm not exactly thrilled about that.

Everyone is choosing dairy alternatives for different reasons, so I can't generalize. But a percentage of people cutting out dairy might also be cutting out coconut cream (distinct from coconut water). And there is also the percentage of people who simply don't care for the taste of coconut, as I so emphasized in my review of the Charm School white chocolate a couple months ago. GoodPop does not use coconut cream in all of their products; it's only in the creamy, milky ones like the Chocolate Fudge, Coldbrew Latte, Orange N' Cream, or Strawberry Shortcake. So fruit pops like the Watermelon Agave or Cherry Limeade will still be clear of coconut.

Does that brand still even exist that made those wonderful tofu fudge pops? Those were good, nothing "alternative" about them even to me as a ten-year-old. Anyways, these are a little different from standard, dairy fudge pops, but not too much. Yes, there is a light coconut flavor, but the chocolate is strong enough that the coconut sinks to the background. I probably would look to find another brand I could try next time, but if for some reason these were the only fudge pops I could have, I'd be okay with that.

They have a somewhat richer and darker color than is standard. They also seem to take a tad longer to thaw to a comfortable eating temperature and soft texture. I should mention, also, that the only sweetener here is coconut sugar. Given that the ingredients are all pretty minimal and of quality, the flavor here is good. Your focus goes to the chocolate, which is rich and creamy. And that's exactly what is called for in a summery indulgence.

So provided that you don't mind the inclusion of coconut cream, these chocolate pops are a nice non-dairy option. Now I think I will go continue celebrating by putting a patriotic hat on my bearded dragon.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Black Butterfly: Patagonian Wild Guava Tea

The reason that I have not reviewed anything from Black Butterfly since October 2018 is that Tracy Taylor makes many beautiful chocolate bonbons and such small chocolates are better eaten right away if the weather is warm. They usually can't take a drive back down to the valley, unless properly stowed in a cool environment (which is certainly not the way I keep my car, air conditioning or no). So while I have been there a few times in the last year or two, somehow I've not reviewed anything.

And now is the time to remember to spotlight the small businesses. So now I have a Patagonian Wild Guava Tea bar to share. Besides the chocolates in the glass case, Black Butterfly also always has speckled bars like this and bags of bark and such like. The chocolate here is a 61% dark and the Patagonian Wild Guava Tea is from Nectar Apothecary. Talk about spotlighting small businesses. Nectar Apothecary is also a favorite of mine. They sell bulk herbs and teas and oils and shea butter. They also have an amazing bar dish soap. They're just around the corner from Black Butterfly, so you can always visit them in pairs.

What exactly is in this tea, you ask? Well, Chilean wild guava, quince, linden flowers, strawberries, and eucalyptus. It all sounded pretty normal until we got to the eucalyptus, right? The tea makes a thick snake on the surface of the chocolate bar. The look is quite feminine, what with the pale fruit and the light red strawberries contrasting against the dark brown background. The aroma of the chocolate is quite sweet.

Because the tea snake runs through the middle of the bar, the first bite was mainly chocolate. Smooth and sweet as expected, like semisweet chocolate chips. Because it has been hanging out next to the fragrant tea, even the plain bites will have just a hint of other flavors to them. Mainly, though, of course, you taste the tea when you bite into it. As I was taking that second bite into the heart of the tea snake, I smelled the eucalyptus--and then tasted it.

 I was transported to the Arboretum in Southern California. To childhood, that is. So in fact, the light and fun, sweeter dark chocolate goes well with that feeling. While eucalyptus first sounds a little different to have in chocolate, something about it is akin to mint, anyway, isn't it, and mint is more common than anything in chocolate. Eucalyptus being a strong flavor, it does tend to dominate. But there is also a zingy flavor from the fruits that goes along with that lighthearted, outdoorsy, summery feel.

Initially I'd thought it would be nicer to have the tea cover the whole bar instead of just that snake in the middle. But the flavors of the tea can in fact be quite strong, so having a buffer isn't necessarily a bad thing if you're going to eat more than two bites. But given that it's so flavorful, I'm more of a two bite person on this one, not surprisingly. Once more, Black Butterfly brings chocolate that is both beautiful and artfully flavored.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020


In the interest of not seeming like I am becoming solely a chocolate blog, I thought I'd best put out something besides weekly chocolate reviews (I almost just put out two reviews this week rather than post about anything else). I have not been posting much because I simply have not known what to write--and sometimes have not had either the inclination or the energy for it.

I'm serious about the energy part. I've been saying, I'm exhausted, at least a couple times a day for the past week--and not because I have been exerting anymore energy than usual. While that would make for a topic, one likes not to write about things publicly until one has something more complete to share and can then decide what exactly to say. Suffice to say that I may have the virus to thank for not rushing out to have surgery before considering other options.

Emotionally we've all been all over the place, except that I'm always all over the place emotionally. I'll talk about my emotions by proxy in public spaces like this blog. That is, I'll say how I felt going to a certain place or reading a certain book or watching a certain show, etc. Reading between the lines probably says a lot about where I'm at at any given time, but I don't go outright and say much.

I have been reading more again, so you'd think that might give me something to post about. But I'm reading a lot of movie books and that sort of thing and usually those don't make for good discussion topics. For a while, all I was watching was YouTube or Wishbone (that wonderful 90's children's show with the Jack Russell Terrier who would draw parallels with what was happening with his middle-school owner and with classic literature).

I guess I've just been overwhelmed and mentally tired. And now that I'm feeling physically tired, I'm feeling better mentally, isn't that funny? I feel content and happy and hopeful. I feel more myself again. I've been floating around through the spaces between tree leaves and all the way back down to the tree roots deep in the ground, that's where I've been. And now I find myself sitting above the ground, with my back against the tree; the tree feels nice, something strong and sturdy.

So maybe now there can be more posts again besides just the chocolate reviews. And don't worry, those won't stop. There are already a few in queue.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Roasted Barrel Cactus Seeds

Enter a tourist shop in Arizona and you will find gummy prickly pear fruit candy and scorpion lollipops. But what if instead of these, you took home a bar of locally made chocolate adorned with barrel cactus seeds? It's novelty as well as gourmet. And it just plain makes sense, as I will outline.

Zak's Chocolate here in Scottsdale uses their 68% house blend for this bar. It's part of their Snacking Bars line, which takes kind of a bark concept, with ingredients on other bars being things like ginger or raspberries. So the 68% chocolate is a lightly sweet dark chocolate that keeps the tone mild and not too deep while still delivering rich chocolate flavor. This way you can enjoy the seeds or the ginger or the raspberries without feeling like you're giving all the focus to the flavor notes of the chocolate.

I first came across roasted barrel cactus seeds just last year at Native Seeds down in Tucson (though a small shop, they have a wonderful selection of products; I highly recommend paying them a visit if you're in town). They're tiny dark seeds, about the same size as sesame seeds or maybe even a little smaller. I tried out putting them on my appetizer board for Thanksgiving; they're fun to gather on the edge of a piece of cheese.

With chocolate I wouldn't have pictured them but why not? We add nuts to chocolate frequently and sometimes seeds, too, though less commonly. And I've been highlighting all of the collaborations that Zak's Chocolate does with other small businesses lately--so this is taking things a step further and using what is also a locally-sourced ingredient. The coffee and the cocoa beans have to be brought in, but the barrel cactuses are in the state already.

Flavor-wise, the barrel cactus seeds don't have a huge taste on their own. Maybe this is also because they are so small. They do somewhat enhance the earthier side of the chocolate, but mainly they contribute texture. They're much smaller and denser than crisped rice and they're not crunchy in the same way as nuts. In fact, the texture is much more like that of coffee beans, being that they are also a seed that we roast. It's a surprisingly great texture. Not that I was expecting it to be bad; I just didn't expect to enjoy it so much. As you can see, there is a medium amount of seeds on the chocolate, so it's just enough that you can lightly crunch each bite.

I tend to have mixed feelings about crunchy chocolate (that is, chocolate with nuts or something like that in it). Sometimes I enjoy it; other times it feels like it detracts from the chocolate. A lighter crunch like this, though, feels more natural. So what I thought would just be a fun gourmet novelty bar turned out to be quite wonderful.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Little Secrets: Dark Chocolate with Salted Caramel Cookie Bars

It is possible that the horse is not dead yet--but that approaching it to beat it again does in fact make it dead and so you are in fact beating a dead horse even if the horse might not have been dead if you hadn't approached it once more. What a vile analogy.

My beating of the dead horse is the decision to review another of the Cookie Bars from Little Secrets. Sometimes just one is enough, yet here I am with the Dark Chocolate with Salted Caramel Cookie Bars. If I wanted to get another one just to try it or because I was craving such a chocolate candy, okay--but why did I decide to review another?

I guess I was curious to see how the dark chocolate went versus the milk chocolate. Appearance-wise, it isn't faring well in the warmer weather. The coloring is dull with some bloom. Nothing to affect flavor, though, of course. It's inside that things get more worrisome, as the funky-looking caramel makes its appearance once more. Here is where the warm weather worked advantageously: it does indeed make the caramel softer and slightly less odd.

The cookie is still a little stiff, but I came in expecting that texture this time. The salt element here, instead of coming across as a fancy salted caramel, tastes more like someone added a dash too much salt to the cookie recipe. Cookie and salt and chocolate and then caramel isn't exactly the most cohesive of flavor layering.

The dark chocolate is candy bar dark chocolate, nothing special nor anything dark. And like with the dark chocolate in the Crispy Wafers, this appears to be compound chocolate (chocolate watered down with oil, which is extremely common in candies and cookies). So it'll satisfy a sweet craving. Sure, sometimes I do want a bit of junk food. I could see reaching for this when I want cookies covered in chocolate nonsense but I maybe don't want to buy a whole box.

But overall, I'm not too impressed. Little Secrets started out with the Chocolate Pieces (which they do well) and perhaps moved too quickly into other chocolate candy products. Neither the ingredients nor the flavors are quite high enough here to keep my interest. If they come up with a fourth type of product, I'll try it. Otherwise, though, I'll be sticking with the Chocolate Pieces.

Monday, June 15, 2020

In the Queen's Peril

Last year's Queen's Shadow by E.K. Johnston was apparently the Star Wars book that enough of us were waiting for that this year we have a prequel, Queen's Peril. Basically this one takes the things that people loved about the first book and spends more time with them.

Instead of seeing Padme adjusting to her role of senator after being queen, this book shows the time shortly after her election to queen. We see Panaka's involvement in choosing the handmaidens--and also the way in which Padme and the handmaidens made plans without him. We see all the individual skills they each bring to the table and we see how they interact with Naboo's traditions as well as the growing awareness of a wider galaxy.

This story revels slightly in portraying Padme the teenager--specifically, the teenage girl. Being YA, it takes that approach of showing all the little details of a teenage girl's life because Star Wars or no, this is a book about teenage girls. Teenage girls who are central to their planet's government, but still. And that's pretty great.

I kept thinking of Padme and her handmaidens as a type of female comitatus. You go back to things like Beowulf or The Lord of the Rings where the king/leader has his loyal warriors who serve him. Padme and her handmaidens are like the female version of the fellowship of the Ring. They're a group that has gathered together for one purpose. They try to be equals and acknowledge everyone's individuality and voice but ultimately they are all there to serve Padme and she is the one who gets the final say because she is the queen. They, in particular Sabe, will submit to whatever is necessary, even when it means putting herself in direct peril by decoying as the queen.

Once again, I love reading about Padme because she's a terrific female character: she's warm and sensitive and intelligent and in good control of herself. It's only after she and Anakin choose their path together that she starts to become overwhelmed.

And last time, I mentioned that I was resolved to the fact that there would probably never be a book about Shmi Skywalker, we did get a few snippets from Shmi's perspective in here and for that I am grateful. So while this book may have been a little scattered (trying to show the early days after the election and then also trying to quickly retell The Phantom Menace from a new perspective) and maybe didn't always have the most flawless plot (I don't get the point of Sache's heroic role and how it actually helped), it was pure indulgence. Perhaps next we can can get a Padme book from the Clone Wars era?

Friday, June 12, 2020

AZ Queen Bee & Zak's Chocolate: Chocolate Creamed Honey

This Chocolate Creamed Honey collaboration between Zak's Chocolate and AZ Queen Bee Honey is not the first chocolate honey I have come across. My seven year old review of CC Pollen Co.'s Chocolate Honey certainly takes me down memory lane. It's weird to think of a time when I didn't buy local honey, and I don't shop at Whole Foods anymore (because of, you know, Amazon). Time takes us on many paths, and the habits we have today aren't necessarily the same as those of yesterday.

Now you might expect for there to be little room for variation between two chocolate honeys; however, such is not the case. They're quite different.

Honey varies not just based on how much it's been processed but also on things like how old it is and what temperature it's currently at. CC Pollen's was pretty stiff, but Queen Bee's is more the texture of caramel. I used to favor buying creamed honey for this very texture; it's sweet and smooth while also still being easier to spread with a spoon or knife than liquid honey (which you kind of have to drizzle). This one is probably especially soft because I keep my home warm (my bearded dragon does not complain).

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's start off with the jar. The jelly jar shape lets you know this is a jelly-like product (Queen Bee also makes their creamed honey in plain, blueberry, strawberry, and lemon). The black and gold label is classy and sleek enough to make this an elegant gift. Birthday present, hostess gift, friendship offering. Or also a treat for yourself.

Opening the jar reveals a rich and strong aroma. It smells of honey but also more strongly of chocolate than I'd expected. I'd say that carries true to taste, as well. It could just be memory, but I don't recall ever having a chocolate honey that tasted this much like chocolate. To clarify: the only ingredients here are honey and cocoa powder. A good helping of cocoa powder, too, it would seem. You can see the specks of it, too, if you look at a thin layer of the honey against the right background. So there is genuine chocolate flavor here rather than artificial chocolate flavoring.

I spread it out on some toast first, one half more thickly and one more thinly for the picture (not that any of these pictures look much enticing; I have not discovered the secret to photographing spreads). Honestly, you can go either way. If you're limiting your sweets, a little of this does go a long way. But spreading thickly is fun, too. Because the chocolate is fairly strong and the honey is incredibly rich and sweet, this makes for a fair substitute for chocolate spreads. It's incredible by the spoonful, too.

I did a little experiment, too. When I make hot chocolate, I just use a little cocoa powder and some honey (usually some cinnamon, too). So what would happen if you added a big spoonful of this chocolate honey to some heated milk/non-milk? I had to find out for you. The effect is like a light milk chocolate hot chocolate. There is just enough cocoa to give a mild chocolate flavor, and of course the honey acts as sweetener. It was an enjoyable beverage and so I'd recommend at least trying it once if you're curious, but I only did it once because it seemed a shame to dilute this spread rather than enjoy the full force of its flavor.

A culinary treat is what this is. You don't have to get creative. Simple bread is just fine. But I'm sure the foodies would enjoy putting together tasting boards with it. And you have the benefit of knowing exactly what is in it and also knowing that it comes from two great small businesses.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Bob's Red Mill: Peanut Butter Chocolate & Oats

Something a little different today. From time to time, I'll review chocolate soap or chocolate candles or other atypical chocolate products. Cereal occasionally has come in. But this is probably the first snack bar. There are, I suppose, enough chocolate snack or energy bars that I haven't the inclination to go about reviewing them. But I was curious about this one because I do generally like Bob's Red Mill products (though I'm used to them selling ingredients like flour or oats or cornmeal rather than things that are already put together), so I wanted to see how they would go about this. And the design reminds me more of a candy bar than of a snack or energy bar.

Or maybe it just appealed to me because it comes in this light, neutral, pale brown, slightly yellow color. (Shiny packaging scares me, this is true.)

Once I opened it up, though, it felt rather too much more like a Clif Bar than I suppose what I'd been imagining. The look is similar with that smushed ingredients style and the smell of the peanuts was similar. So it wasn't particularly exciting. The taste, too, is much like a Clif Bar. There is more of a flavor of oats here, though, oats with that soft, semi-flavorless flavor. The chocolate has presence but the peanut butter doesn't come in much at all.

So yes, this is a snack bar rather than than a candy bar. Not an energy bar, either, more just a granola bar type thing. It does taste nicer than a Clif bar, probably not least because it is much softer in texture (other than the sugar in the chocolate, the only sweetener is honey, which probably helps with the texture, as well).

After tasting a bit of it, I put the rest in my bag to waltz around Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park this week (don't worry; I practically had the place to myself and would go almost an hour at a time without seeing another living soul besides the lizards, birds, and rabbits). And I did find this chocolate oat bar quite delicious when it was nice and warm. It took on more of a fudge feeling, becoming almost a tad too melty. The oats helped to give it that freshly baked feeling while also allowing the chocolate flavor to take over.

Not a bad choice, then, if you're looking for something to throw in a bag. Normally I'd recommend just eating some almonds when you need an on-the-go snack, but hey, maybe now is a time when people are wanting to rely less on finger food snacks? So while this product is a little different from the type of thing I normally review and while I probably won't usually be buying many of these, they are a nice option for the times when you do need a hands-off, pre-packaged, nice-tasting, okay ingredients snack.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Burning Across the Mountain

Last year I walked across the mountain of dried lava; I wore a green lace dress.

This year I walked across the same mountain while wearing the same dress.

I felt free and alive and happy.

My heart was stretched across the land.

I came home and thought of you and was sad.

I will never forget you. I burn with life.

(Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park)