Monday, August 31, 2020

The Dark Star Wars Legends

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 28, 2020

Good King: Snacking Cacao - Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Carefree English Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 24, 2020

'Tis Now Midnight

 Approximately ten years ago, the manuscript for Midnight Sun (you know, Twilight from Edward's perspective) was leaked online, so Stephenie Meyer chose to put it up for free on her website so that fans wouldn't get tempted to go look up the leaked copy. She always said that someday she would finish and publish it, someday when everyone had forgotten about it. And that time ended up being in 2020. Ten years ago, I would not have pictured putting on my mask before going into the store to get my copy of the book. But there you have it; you never know what the future holds--unless you're Alice, that is.

The first half of this book is of course quite familiar since it's material we've seen before. What does it feel like, then, to revisit something from your own past? Are we all still interested in what once held our attention. I can speak only for myself and I suppose the answer is mainly yes. Twilight was enjoyable because it portrayed the feeling of falling in love for the first time and Midnight Sun (particularly the first half) is the same way. All those little daily life flourishes and moments.

The thing is, though, back in 2008 in my senior year of high school when I first read these books I had never been in love. Reading about first love when it's something to look forward to versus when it is something in your past, something accompanied by first heartbreak, is something entirely different and much more painful. I found I could only handle small doses of reading. You could say that I wasn't as much into the fairy tale (which is not at all to say that I don't believe in love--but I do agree that fiction tends to overemphasize first love as the love).

I admit that I had forgotten that the leaked/originally-released manuscript was incomplete. At first I thought I was just reading scenes that had been extended since then (which I think was the case, too, right?), but then I of course eventually realized I was reading completely new sections of the book. While much of this book is fascinating to read because it does give you insight into what Edward was experiencing or why he acted a certain way at particular moments or how such and such unfolded that Bella didn't even know about, some of the material in here was superfluous. I really didn't need the extended dialogue of Edward asking Bella about her favorite movies and music and all that--yes, that's something you want to do when you're falling for someone in real life, but isn't something that added to the reading of their story. 

By the time you're in the last third of this book, though, it shifts. This is the part of the story where Edward and Bella spend a lot of time apart, so you are seeing entirely different things than what you see in Twilight. Alice in action is great and their car stealing and freeway speeding was entertaining. And we finally got an explanation for why James only noticed Bella at the baseball game when the breeze went by; that always seemed like a plot inconsistency what with all the explanations about a vampire's sense of smell. And the last third was also great because I didn't have to sit through all the falling in love stuff anymore.

The Twilight series is well-arranged as far as the different stages of Bella (innocence, initiation, chaos, and resolution played out in four books). Edward's story plays out a little differently, though, especially because he has Alice showing him all of these possible versions of the story. That's why the first half or so of this book is his falling in love story. But after that, he's in a different headspace than Bella is. He's already planning to leave her life someday. So that's why Midnight Sun feels like two books or maybe one and a half books in one. His pacing is different from hers. 

But that doesn't really matter, does it? This book is still nice to finally have. It was entertaining to run down memory lane and to get some new angles and scenes. 

Have you read Midnight Sun yet? What did you think?

Friday, August 21, 2020

Truede: Chocolate Coated Turkish Delight

 This is what happens when you let me loose in World Market. The Turkish delight was half off, so I bought four kinds. But you know, I also bought staple items like rice and pasta, so that makes it a grocery purchase, right?

I think we all know (even if it's buried down deep) that Turkish delight is the treat that Edmund asked the White Witch for in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Many American readers long thought that it was an invented, fantasy food rather than a very real, commonplace candy in England. I had my first Turkish delight from World Market somewhere around fifteen years ago. It wasn't the best: it was almost hard in texture and the powdered sugar was very thick, thicker than what I've come to favor. But it was fun because it was like a bit of Narnia (rather than a bit of England).

I've stuck by Turkish delight, though. The question of whether or not I actually like it or just like that it reminds me of Narnia gets a clearer answer when I point out that the traditional flavor is rose and I do love rose. We don't get much candy made with rose and yet I'm always quick to go for rose products. Rose tea, rose lemonade, rose truffles, rose pastilles, so why not rose jelly candy? That's what Turkish delight is, after all.

The Mini Rose Turkish Delight from Truede I did try out earlier this year. (That's also why I was willing to buy so much this time.) It was the best that I can remember having. Nice and simple and delightful. (It's also non-GMO, which is cool.) If you've never had Turkish delight before, this is a good brand to start with. Truede Turkish delight, by the way, is a Turkish product with an English distributor. 

While the Chocolate Coated Turkish Delight doesn't exactly fit my normal standards for chocolate that I review, I do bend every so often and I thought I might as well go crazy by buying it, too, and then fully disclosing my crazy Turkish delight adventure. The tiny bit of chocolate gave me a reason to blog about it.

The box is quite beautiful. The bottom is red and the lid is white with a blue and red floral pattern. Inside, nine pieces of candy sit in their little papers inside a golden tray to keep them from tumbling around. I wasn't expecting so much formality from an off-the-shelf confection. The milk chocolate is fairly pale in color and the jelly inside does not look red and clear like in their picture on front. Instead, it is denser and more brown in color, with just a hint of red when you look at it in the light. If you squint, it just looks like a ganache.

The jelly texture is almost like that of a big jelly bean. Stiff yet also soft. The rose flavor is nice and is what I focus on most. The chocolate isn't very noticeable. It has little flavor; the benefit of that being that it doesn't add piles of sweetness. It's just a little twist on the traditional candy: instead of being coated in powdered sugar, it's covered in a very thin layer of chocolate. The proportions are just right. This isn't chocolate filled with jelly; this is Turkish delight coated in chocolate. Much better in both flavor and proportions than the Fry's Turkish Delight candy bar (which you can find from time to time at World Market, too), which is a thin chocolate candy bar with Turkish delight jelly inside. 

It's an indulgence, a sweet confection, a pretty candy. Just the thing to keep on my kitchen table right now. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

My Painted Heart

 The Painted Desert has my heart, truly. When I'm there, I feel like I am the land. Most often, my trips up to the Petrified Forest are in September, when everything is in bloom (which also makes it the worst time to go if you have allergies, which I do not). This year I was too antsy, though, to wait and also wanted to mix it up. I had never been in August before and the land looks different depending on each season. 

It's quite healing to be outdoors, too. This is a great destination for a solo visit because you're within the safety of a national park (versus the anonymity of a random trail) but it can feel very wide open, too. I sat at lunch in the empty picnic area with just a raven for company--and the blowing, blowing wind. (Yes, the park was emptier than normal currently, but the picnic area has always been empty in my past experience, too. Maybe everyone grabs fast food on the road?)

I tried to make this trip a little bit different than the usual. The park contains a 28 mile road that you drive along, with various look out points and stops along the way and a few trails. You can spend a short time or a very full day or any amount of time in between. Given that I still had quite a drive home, I skipped some of the look out points that I've ogled at before to save time. I'll see them again another time. The Blue Mesa trail is one of my favorites, so I had to walk that one. I skipped the Agate Bridge and Puerco Pueblo. But I walked the Crystal Forest, which is one and a half minutes and gets you close to some lovely petrified wood, some dark and some sparkling. 

Then I made my way up to the Long Logs and Agate House trails. Now, they are only about two miles when combined. But you can no longer drive up to the trailheads, so you have to walk from the visitor center parking lot. And that's I think a mile and a half or so. So this is a long walk through plain, grassy land that is quite beautiful but also quite long if you've already been out in the heat for a while. I can see why most people end up skipping this one (it's also kind of hard to spot now, unless you're specifically trying to get to it). 

But it was a lovely cap to my day. I passed a pair of people when I was going in and saw another pair at one point. Otherwise, for the hour or so that I walked along I was completely alone. The wind had settled somewhat, but there was a storm gathering to the southeast as per usual in summer. That made for lovely views. The grasses spoke silence around me. My skin was growing tired from the heat (the low 90's were fairly comfortable but were starting to get exhausting at the end of the day), but I welcomed the chance to feel tired from sun and slopes. I've been indoors too much this year.

The Agate House is the ruins of a building from a thousand years ago. It was partially reconstructed in the 1930's, which the sign made sure to mention isn't something that would be done today. But it certainly makes it more fascinating to look at. Big chunks of petrified wood used like stones in the construction create a style like the river rock buildings in Cottonwood, though formed together more like the structures at Wupatki. I was so thrilled at the little house on the hill that I got to admire all on my own.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Compartes: Superfood Dark Chocolate

 I don't get it. Compartes Chocolatier makes vegan, "superfood" chocolate and also makes chocolate bars with frosted animal cookies or Lucky Charms on them. You can choose to be plant-based or Red 40-based depending on your mood. I don't understand those two very different approaches coming from the same company. However, when you look at the fact that this is an LA company, it makes more sense: both vegan products and weird, for-photos, covered-in-cookies-or-cereal-or-giant-slices-of-cake products are very So Cal. While I can have some interest in some of either of those things, I really just want a good product. So I think I've done it once more: I bought a chocolate not designed for me at all. That is my warning that I will be more negative in this review than I generally like to be. 

But I was curious. Of the three Compartes bars at World Market, I tried to choose the one with the flavors that would most appeal to me. The Superfood bar is dark chocolate with strawberry, dragon fruit, goji, and açaí. That is, I like strawberries and açaí juice and I think I've been neutral to my encounters with goji berries. Dragon fruit perhaps not so much, but then again I think I had a drink that was rather nice a few months ago that had dragon fruit in it . . . 

I'm not interested in all the labels that surround the card box. Why shouldn't a dark chocolate be vegan? That should just about go without saying. Same for gluten and dairy. And I would hope that small batch chocolate wouldn't have palm oil or GMOs. (Correct me if I'm wrong, but I can find nothing even on their website that says anything about fairly traded cocoa.) With so many labels, though, I guess I must've missed the one that mentioned the lack of refined sugar. Instead, this chocolate is sweetened with yes, you guessed it, coconut sugar. (I would prefer honey if they wanted to skip the sugar, but then I suppose it wouldn't be vegan.) Coconuts are haunting me these days, I tell you. Doesn't anyone realize that not only do I not like the taste of coconut, but coconut flesh (apart from coconut water) is on my list of foods to avoid? So this is not in fact a superfood for me. But coconut products are on trend right now, so here we are.

The more modern, geometric style of the packaging paired with the shiny, red coloring does not appeal to me. But it is unique and memorable, which are good things. The inner wrapper is much nicer to my eyes. The font paired with the simple gold background gives it a classy, Art Deco look. And the bar itself is gorgeous on both sides. On the chocolate, the geometric pattern of triangles has a simpler yet still unique appeal that I wasn't getting from the outside packaging. And the fruits and berries create colorful splashes on the flip side. 

That almost neon, deep pink powder would be the dragon fruit. The strawberries are obvious. The goji berries are in there, too, though being smaller they stand out less. The açaí I don't know. They're pretty dark, so if there is açaí berry powder in here, it wouldn't be visible, right? 

I began with tasting a corner of plain chocolate and found it not plain at all. That first taste had something of banana flavor notes, which was quite nice. Since then, I imagine I taste coconut more than banana. The chocolate is nice, neither bitter nor too sweet (it's a 75%), but it does have a certain taste to it, especially as an aftertaste, that won't appeal to those not fond of coconut. It isn't nearly so strong as in the white chocolate from Charm School, but still I provide the caution.

The strawberries are quite soft and squishy, a nice change from the usual freeze-dried strawberries. The goji berries I can't comment on because they're so covered in dragon fruit dust. And I'm not too fond of the flavor of that dust. It has a cool color and of course I like to speak of dragons, but I would have enjoyed this better without it. I haven't been able to detect the açaí, which figures since açaí already has rather a cocoa flavor to it, so it wouldn't probably stand out much in a bar of chocolate even without all of these other flavors. 

When I first started eating this bar, I quite disliked it. Returning to it, I found it more edible and even somewhat nice. But I keep on getting that slightly bitter taste of the coconut and that slightly strange taste of the dragon fruit and those are not appealing. Again, I'll emphasize that I know that this chocolate was not made for me. So while there will be a percentage of people who agree with my opinions, I know there is also a percentage of people who will love this chocolate bar. And which category you are in is up to you. 

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!