Friday, January 31, 2020

Me to We: 65% Dark Chocolate

Here I have the second fair trade chocolate bar that I found at Barnes & Noble last month. At just under $4, at first I thought it was kind of inexpensive (especially given that, if anything, chocolate would probably cost more at Barnes & Noble than at another place), but then I noticed that it is only 40 grams. About half the usual size means it's about the usual price for this tier of chocolate. And I'm always up for a smaller chocolate bar. One, it does make the price tag look lower even if the price per ounce is the same. Two, it encourages eating less chocolate--which is something that I think should be part of the whole move toward fair trade cocoa (and yes, I am aware that by reviewing chocolate I am in a sense promoting eating more, not less, chocolate--but I'm also promoting awareness and appreciation, which can in turn help limit).

And I can go on all these ethical tangents here because the packaging of this chocolate is extreme on the socially ethical look. All the wording about a brighter future and education on the card box and then the picture of the smiling girl with her book on the inside of the box all contribute to a World Vision type style. And naturally so: Me to We is not specifically a chocolate company. They're the other side of WE Charity; in addition to chocolate, they also sell coffee and jewelry. I didn't think that I recognized the name, but the bracelets definitely look familiar, so I'm sure I've seen them before.

All this is great but it also made me wonder how the chocolate would actually taste. Not to be making a point of pointing fingers, but Equal Exchange, for instance, has good motives and sells different types of products and they do have good tea but their chocolate isn't very good.

The cocoa is sourced in Ecuador (the package says that it's made in Ecuador, as well, which is nice because often the beans are exported and then processed into chocolate in another country). So the wrapper has a traditional pattern in homage to the chocolate's heritage. The bar itself has a youthful and trendy vibe that reminds me of Girl Scout cookies, like something that you can say is for a cause but is also nice to eat in a casual sort of way (admittedly and unsurprisingly I never buy Girl Scout cookies anymore but that's the idea that Girl Scout cookies evoke).

Boy, this chocolate has been through some rough times, though. The stamp seems to say it was made in October 2018 and expires in April 2020. Chocolate has a long shelf life but it is usually less than ideal to get it so close to expiration. What surprises me about this is that I thought that Barnes & Noble just started selling these pretty recently. Usually I think of the approaching expiration dates belonging on chocolate bars that have been sitting untouched on the shelf of a little random shop for years. But this just goes to show how much chocolate sometimes has to travel and how many hands it has to go through before it gets to you. There is lots of bloom on this chocolate's surface; it's definitely been through some temperature changes. That bottom left corner especially has been through some times. Ah, that's life.

The chocolate immediately on unwrapping releases a sweet dark chocolate smell in that marshmallow flavor note zone that reminds me of a chocolate I used to get at Trader Joe's. Now, while I did like the bar's design, the squares are too big. Maybe it's just me, but these are much too big for one bite and I don't like to bite into dark chocolate; I like to place a piece in my mouth instead. Which means that I had to break one of these apart, which meant that I could tell that it was getting a little hard from being on the old side. Still, the chocolate had a good snap apart from that.

Initially, I thought that the texture had suffered for sure, but then it seemed to normalize. Or maybe I just got distracted by the flavor. It begins with a Ghirardelli-like semisweet chocolate taste, nice and silvery. But it doesn't stay there; it keeps developing. I want to say it gets a stewed fruit or banana taste, something like that. Then it starts mellowing and quieting, finishing gently and leaving a quiet and tender warmth.

Now I did see on their website that Me to We has won awards from the International Chocolate Awards and the Academy of Chocolate; awards like that are nothing to be modest about. But I still wasn't expecting this. I was expecting this chocolate to be mediocre; I truly was. I also wasn't expecting to care for it given that it's at 65% cocoa content. But this chocolate is good. I can see why the company holds its own at awards.

What this chocolate shows me is that they know how to use good cocoa and play to its strengths. This chocolate is neither at all bitter nor that weird middle range "sweet dark." It has some sweetness, but not too much. Instead, the slightly lower cocoa content keeps everything light so that the chocolate won't be intimidating. It's just a nice pleasant chocolate with mild flavor notes. If I were to do my nature metaphors, this chocolate would the moment when you're sitting and staring at a pond in a park. Absolutely wonderful when you're there and so many things to look at when you take the time for it. Less in-your-face, fireworks jumping into the sky but no less detailed. I would definitely recommend picking up some Me to We chocolate if you come across it.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Victoria the Beautiful T-Rex

Victoria the T-Rex is currently next to the Victorian house the Rosson House. These are the things that amuse me.

I am referring, of course, to the traveling exhibit that is currently at the Arizona Science Center. These traveling exhibits are great for the museum. I hadn't been there since I was eleven years old until I decided to go see the Pompeii exhibit a year or two ago. And now I was back again already for Victoria. The changing exhibits give families a chance to make a yearly visit and give adults an excuse to go, too.

And of course when there are dinosaurs involved, I'm in.

Victoria is certainly a beauty. While the exhibit is mainly just built around one skeleton, they did try and bulk it out a little with a cool intro video, a couple of interactive features, and an exit walk through a dark and jungley path. And we are looking at a more current approach to dinosaurs here. (Honestly, they keep discovering new things every day that I'm still skeptical about how much we actually know, but I guess that's beside the point.) Even when you look at Victoria herself. You can see the horizontal line her spine and tail make that's parallel with the ground versus that Godzilla posture of yesteryear. You can see the much wider ribcage whose shape is in fact a very new realization. And the text and interactive things had info not just about feathers but also about what kind of feathers a dinosaur like the T-Rex probably had.

Obviously, of course, if you just walk straight through, you'll be done in two minutes. But if you take the time to check out Victoria and her awesome bone structure, take some pictures with her, look at the interactive displays, and enjoy the little jungle walk, it's a nice time. Dinosaurs hit that sweet spot between science and fantasy and that's kind of what the exhibit aimed for, too.

Monday, January 27, 2020

La Boheme & What Is Real

Given how much I'd enjoyed Arizona Opera's production of Madama Butterfly a couple years ago, I was excited to see more Puccini coming up with La Boheme this season. So yes, music was great, the symphony was great, the performers were great, the sets were great--but that really isn't my zone to talk about, is it? I'm here to talk about how it all felt.

How does it feel to be an artist trying to create something meaningful but really feeling like what would be meaningful would be food on the table and bills paid? How does it feel to find yourself on the edge of love but know that it will not last? How does it feel to feel? That is the main question that this story brought up.

In fact, this feeling of the great joy/pain and success/failure of life is so strong that it almost feels like a sort of precursor to postmodernism. It's a witty story. The opening scene is funny as the characters, desperately cold, burn the pages of Rodolfo's play to keep warm. But by the third act, when Mimi is singing about how she and Rodolfo can agree to stay together until spring because they won't be able to feel the loss so much during spring, well, that's the breaking point. Even though she's singing about pretty springtime things, her song is heartbreak in music form.

And that's life. Heartbreak can come in many forms. There is the loss of a relationship--but also any type of emotional loss. That's one of the guarantees in life: there will be heartbreak. These characters also experience fleeting pleasures and even fleeting sorrows--but they are most stirred by the deep happinesses and the deep losses. In a way, as artists they pursue the deep experiences. They make beauty out of them in their art. But they are also shattered and broken by them. In Mimi and Rodolfo's story, happiness and pain meet, which is expressive of life itself.

First they wanted to believe that they were in love because the idea of being in love seemed so wonderful. Then they wanted to believe that they could separate in order to avoid the pain of a hopeless situation. At the bitter end, they feel the love they have for each other and also the pain of their loss of each other, now made eternal. All through this the question in mind is, what is real in our minds? There is the conflict between what this group of artists are trying to do with their lives and what they are actually experiencing--and a conflict between what Rodolfo and Mimi want and what they actually experience. The curtain closes on her death because what happens next depends on what the characters decide is real. Is the heartbreak real enough to make Rodolfo never love again? Is it real enough that he will pursue an entirely different life, one where he finds a different career and a simpler love that is simply marriage rather than what he had with Mimi? Is it real enough to inspire him to write an amazing play, one that might even give him financial success? Or is it real enough that he will simply continue to live the life that he is now, because it is this life of poverty and fear and poetry that brought him all that he has experienced?

(This is what happens when you write about Puccini while listening to Breaking Benjamin.)

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Jelina Chocolatier: Crunchy Pecan Caramel Milk Chocolate

Here is how it happened. I was in line at Barnes & Noble last month. Usually, especially around one holiday or another, there are chocolates around. Godiva's usually the main one; they seem to be good friends with Barnes & Noble. But what caught my attention was that there were not only several different brands in the chocolate display they had this time but at least a couple of those had fair trade labels on them. Fair trade chocolate at Barnes & Noble? Hey, I had to get some even just to let them know that I approved, right?

The first one will provide a nice contrast with the Milk Chocolate Honey Almond Nougat from Tony's Chocolonely last week. We have more of the world tricking me here. Jelina Chocolatier offers a Crunchy Pecan Caramel Milk Chocolate. Now even though the picture shows liquid caramel pouring out, at least the name does use the word "crunchy." And we can assume that the liquid caramel is being poured out onto the pecans in order to harden and then become crunchy rather than staying in a liquid state.

However. The look of the chocolate bar does indeed still imply liquid caramel. Those deep rectangles look like pockets for filling, do they not? Usually that is only the bar's style if it has filling. So I did bite into the first one still expecting liquid caramel. There is no liquid caramel.

What I did find, though, was more of a nice, light toffee. I specify this because not all "crunchy caramels" are alike. I've had a few of them by this point and this one might just be my favorite. I do like toffee; if I'm in a confection shop, I'll probably choose toffee. And the reason why this one feels so nice and light is that Jelina does make better ingredients a priority. Whenever a company chooses to do this, the difference is evident in the flavor.

As far as the chocolate goes, you can probably tell even in the pictures that it is quite pale. I've had some milk chocolates even lighter than this, but not many. I do quite like the look of the chocolate bar despite its implication of free-flowing caramel, but its color does also imply that this is extremely low cocoa content milk chocolate. I can't find the percentage listed anywhere, but the lightness of the cocoa flavor comes across in taste, as well. That being said, this chocolate does taste nice and milky. It almost reminds me more of a Swiss milk chocolate; they tend to make very light, very milky and yet also quite good milk chocolate.

That comparison isn't too far off: Jelina uses chocolate from Belgium in their products. Good thing I chose a milk bar and not a dark because I don't seem to care for Belgian dark chocolate; either they only export the cheap stuff or their style is just too sweet. This chocolate, though, I like. It is very light but it makes for a nice confection-type chocolate bar. I find it much more enjoyable than the milk chocolate from Tony's.

And yes, I've almost forgotten about the pecans because in truth, I did forget about them for the first couple squares that I ate. Sure, there is a nutty taste, but lots of milk chocolate has a nutty taste so I didn't notice anything unusual. There is a crunch to the chocolate, of course, but if there is a separate pecan crunch, it blends in with the toffee-called-caramel. While pecans are wonderful with chocolate and it would have been perhaps nice to get some in here, I also can't say that this chocolate felt lacking without them.

So I'm feeling pretty happy with this bar. Maybe I just like their plain brown card box. Mainly I like that this chocolate feels more like an actual confection: a sweet and milky milk chocolate with light toffee crystals. Whether or not I would try much more from Jelina Chocolatier given that they don't make their own chocolate, I don't know. If a company makes great flavored chocolate, then there's nothing wrong with the fact that they don't also make the chocolate itself. But it tends to feel like I have less to explore. So we'll see.

It also bears noting that Jelina Chocolatier is a Canadian company. Their name in Canada is Galerie au Chocolat; they explain that they chose to use a different name in the U.S. because there was already a similar name out here. So for anyone who happens to be in Canada, there you have it.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Eden Recovered: Rey's Journey

If there is anyone who still needs a spoiler-warning, yes, this post contains spoilers on The Rise of Skywalker.

"Serpent! Serpent! Serpent!" C-3PO cries out, and a percentage of the audience shouts out, Alice in Wonderland! Star Wars being archetypal and all about symbols and themes, it would follow that they would directly include literary references (especially given that one of the writers, Chris Terrio, was a lit. major). But why include this particular reference?

The snake scene is full of symbolic value. It is one of the many examples of healing from past harm. D-O runs from Rey's touch and then, once he is able to trust again, helps the Resistance. The snake first appears threatening, as if ready to kill the company, and then ends up helping them find a way out after Rey shows it kindness in healing its wound. Kylo experiences kindness and acceptance and forgiveness from Rey where before he only felt hurt and unworthiness--and so he chooses to lay aside the past. In the simplest form, the snake is Kylo. Rey literally heals both of their physical wounds and then receives assistance from them both.

The snake is also a traditional symbol of evil and temptation and disobedience and rebellion, going back to the garden of Eden. And the redemption story that you see in the film in D-O, the snake, and in Kylo Ren/Ben Solo is essentially a recovery of the Fall from Eden. The snake was a symbol of evil and that's why 3PO and Finn and Poe were afraid of it, ready to just kill it to protect themselves. But Rey didn't want to stop at saving her life; her aims were higher. She was on a mission. So instead of killing instead of being killed, she won the snake over to her side and consequently was speeded on her way. She took what had been given the name of evil and gave it a new name.

Just as she gives herself a new name. And that's where the Alice in Wonderland reference comes in. That story is all about "nonsense" situations that in some way express the concept of growing up. The serpent quote comes from when Alice is growing so much that her neck becomes very long and reaches into the sky so that she can't even see her hands. So she starts craning her neck into the trees to look for the rest of her body, and a bird shouts serpent at her and explains that she has been trying to keep her eggs safe from serpents. Alice tries to explain that she's a girl not a serpent and that even though she does eat eggs, she doesn't eat eggs like that; but trying to explain her actual identity is difficult in the circumstances and the bird really doesn't believe her.

It really isn't nonsense if you look at it on a symbolic level. The core of it is establishing personal identity--even in the face about assumptions from other people about that identity, assumptions that can even start to get you questioning who you are. Alice tries to say that she doesn't want the bird's eggs because she's a girl not a serpent--but she also has to admit that girls eat eggs, too, even if it isn't like that. Rey is trying to affirm that she is not a dark Jedi or the heir to the Sith--even when she does things (like using the force to heal physical wounds, perhaps?) that are traditionally associated with the dark side. She even doubts herself, fearing the vision she has of herself on the Sith throne with Kylo.

But Rey is more aware of what is going on than Alice is. Rey is a woman choosing her path in life, not a girl coming of age. She realizes that no one can make her be something that she doesn't choose. She is heir to Palpatine but she does not have to accept the inheritance of darkness. Instead, she chooses to be adopted into the Skywalker lineage, into the legacy of hope and light. Rey, in choosing her identity, initiates healing and redemption from the Fall.

Monday, January 20, 2020


Today I tore pages out of one of my notebooks and put them in the paper shredder and threw them away.

You see, as a writer and probably quite a nostalgic person, I feel like I need to remember everything and keep everything. Seriously, it's amazing I don't have a box of grocery lists hiding out somewhere. And as far as free writing goes, I like to keep it all (which is why I use a notebook for that instead of paper scraps, at least as far as I can help it) (and yes this means that my free writing notebook is different from my journal and from my manuscripts) because sometimes I can incorporate some of it later on into one project or another. I might take something completely out of context (usually) or even just keep a sentence or a phrase or an image.

But am I really going to reread every single thing I've ever written down? Probably not. And so do I really need to keep the free writing fragments that I probably shouldn't even be looking at anymore? Some things, some things don't need to be kept.

Memory is a long and winding trail. Start walking down it and it becomes real. Which paths do you want to keep incorporating into who you are and which do you want to lay aside?

Friday, January 17, 2020

Tony's Chocolonely: Milk Chocolate Honey Almond Nougat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

You Don't Need To

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 13, 2020

Strong Emotions Much?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 10, 2020

Stone Grindz: Ucayali River, Peru 70%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Visually Auditory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 6, 2020

Arizona Falls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 3, 2020

Carolina's Chocolate: Spicy Sonoran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

On New Year's Day

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year.