Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Telling Stories

 I sat and told myself a story,

until the stories became all I saw.

Then you came and sat beside me,

and you became my story.

Reality once trickled away into pages to hide.

Now reality dances in the air around me. 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Double Silver Latte Bar

Take the Coffee Break Bar from Zak's Chocolate and take their Belize White Chocolate and put them together and what do you get? The Double Silver Latte Bar. Two favorites in one must surely mean a third favorite, right? 

The Coffee Break Bar, you'll recall, is a 55% dark chocolate that also contains coffee (from Bergie's) and milk. And the White Chocolate has a greater cocoa flavor than is generally found in white chocolate while still also maintaining that intense creaminess. In this Latte Bar, the two chocolate bars are literally layered on top of each other. I only rarely get to expound on how much I love layering different type of chocolates because it is done so rarely. Whether it's milk chocolate and dark chocolate or white chocolate and milky dark chocolate, the effect is strikingly pleasing.

You can see a little bit of the dark chocolate peeking around the edges of the white chocolate. I'll here make a reminder that the white chocolate does in fact have a darker color than is typical of white chocolate; the camera picked that up accurately. If you do, though, see any fingerprints or slight muddling of the smooth surface it's because I keep my apartment too warm for chocolate, so it was bound to get slightly marred. (I don't recommend putting chocolate in the refrigerator unless you have no other option. Once upon a time I used to keep an insulated bag with an ice pack for my chocolate stash, but that was too much hassle.) So that's my fault. 

Instantly on unwrapping, you get a nice coffee smell. On tasting, the coffee hit comes at the same time as that creamy, milky flavor. The white chocolate gives a super soft and creamy texture. In fact, examining the bar would suggest that the white chocolate takes up just a tad more than half the thickness, which is in keeping with the latte effect. There is then more of a cocoa butter flavor than a straight cocoa flavor. There is some chocolate richness, but primarily this is a sweet and creamy concoction. Also it's probably milder on the coffee flavor than the plain Coffee Break Bar itself is; again, though, that's consistent with the latte comparison. 

For more coffee flavor, bite in dark chocolate side down. For less coffee during the bite but more of a coffee aftertaste, try it white chocolate down. Or to mingle coffee and sugar and milk, just mix them up as they melt in your mouth. The white chocolate that Zak's makes is already quite unique. Pair that with such a delightful concept as layered white and dark with coffee and it's an undeniable winner, something to add to the foodie lists. One thing I do not recommend: sharing this chocolate bar. You will want your own, so buy a separate one per person.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Household Essentials Anyone?

I don't really have anything to post about, but I bought something new lately that is very exciting and entirely random and yet also I think entirely worth sharing. So here it is along with another handy little item. You can get both of these at Joann's Fabric in the mending and washing and ironing section. The sweater comb I've had for years; it's about four dollars. The snag nab-it tool is three dollars and it's my new and exciting purchase. 

The sweater comb is for when you have a sweater (or other wool/wool-type product) that is getting pilling. You just brush it gently with the comb and all of that loose wool will gather onto the comb; you can then remove it and your sweater is new and nice again. A must have. It's not only great for your favorite sweater at home but also for that 100% cashmere sweater in the thrift store that is just right except that it's covered in pilling so no one wants it. Granted, if a sweater is really bad, it might take a little bit of time to clean it up, but it's worth it.

The snag tool came in two different styles. The other one had a little hook on the end to grab the end with, but I thought that this slimmer tool would be better for finer materials (versus bulky, coarse sweaters). It's basically a thick needle; instead of an eye, it has a rough tip. You poke the tool through the middle of a snag and push it through and the rough end will grab the snag and pull it along. Amazing. If you have a sweater, you can usually push the snag back through with just a regular needle or something. But I've also used this one on a silk/cotton knit blouse (my bearded dragon was responsible for that snag), and it pushed the snag back in easily without damaging the more delicate fabric. It also worked great on my heavy cotton bedspread. Super fast and simple.

Again, I'm just rambling about random products because I had nothing to post about today. But they do both go with the concepts I often repeat: buy to keep and take care of what you buy and buy things that can be repaired before replaced. And these two tools will help in the care and keeping of your clothing and scarves and blankets. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The New Era of David Copperfield

I wondered whether or not I would post about The Personal History of David Copperfield. To do so would be to admit to everyone that I went to a movie theatre, so I thought that perhaps I should only post if I had worthwhile comments on the film. It turns out that I do, but you know what? I also decided/realized that I don't need to be hiding anything I'm doing. Yes, I went to a movie theatre. And I was literally the only person watching the movie. There is no need for me to try and defend myself and my choices against hypothetical criticism. 

So David Copperfield, eh? Although there have been many film adaptations of the story, I have not seen any of them. I rather think that, though once one of the most popular Charles Dickens books, this book has fallen out of the modern consciousness a bit. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like people basically know Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol and then maybe Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities. So there is already a degree of freshness to the story for those of us unfamiliar with it.

But there is much more freshness to this adaptation, isn't there? Sure, there is the way in which it subtly uses CG to help tell the story, like when Mr. Murdstone's hand reaches into David's happy memories. Nicely done effects. The big topic, though, of course, is the color blind casting. That is, it isn't really color blind per se. It's more that it isn't constrained by color. 

The great thing about this of course is that it allows more actors to have access to more types of roles. You only see non-white actors in certain historical settings if they're lower class characters (usually slaves or "wild natives" or one-dimensional guides or some combination of the three). So it's always nice in semi-fantasy settings like Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella to have a black family also trying on the slipper or what have you. David Copperfield asks, why limit things like that to fantasy? If film adaptations of historical novels already take liberties with historical facts, why not do the same with color? Is it really such a big deal or disturbance to the telling of the story?

Sure, if you were making Uncle Tom's Cabin, it would get a little confusing and wouldn't suit the purposes of the story if you casted color blind. But most of the books aren't like that. I don't think the 2011 Wuthering Heights got enough recognition for casting a black Heathcliff (though it was based on the book's description of Heathcliff, one might still consider it a liberal interpretation of phrasing). Still, that was an instance where casting went with story. This brings up an interesting point. If anyone were against color blind casting Victorian movies, why not at least cast the "lower class" characters more diversely? The popular Oliver Twist, for instance. What's to prevent casting a non-white actor to play the Artful Dodger or Nancy? (And just because there were less non-white upper class people at the time doesn't mean there were none, so maybe the occasional character in the background at the bookshop or something, too?)

This of course isn't what David Copperfield did. David Copperfield said hey, these are the people here and now when we are all getting together and putting on clothing and getting out our little cameras to play out this story and so these are the characters they're going to play. There are no rules to it. While you could believe that David has a white mother because we never see his father, his white friend has a black mother and his future wife Rosalind Wickfield doesn't look much like her father, either. So the casting, like I mentioned, is not really color blind. It is aware that our eyes are not blind to color; it just says that sticking to "realistic" casting doesn't matter in this context. That's why the casting is done in pairs like this; we are meant to notice it and see that it is fine and doesn't disrupt the story at all. We already know that they're actors playing roles and not actually related to one another. 

And in a way, it adds to the story. This story is all about class and how people rise and fall within their worldly circumstances and sometimes try to be something a little different from what they are (whether that means striving for self-improvement, lying like Mr. Micawber does, or conniving like Uriah Heep does). The story exposes many of the pretenses of society. David is the son of a lady one minute, a low class factory worker the next, then a gentleman, then low class again, and back up. It's all a bit of pretense: he is still David no matter where he is or what other people think of him at the moment. It's not entirely unlike how all of the actors who play characters are still people, no matter how they might be considered differently as far as casting goes at different points in time (the times when they would cast white actors even in ethnic roles because there are only white actors, the times when non-white actors got a great role because they had the physical look for it, the times when they found they could get lots of great roles but really wished they could play Jane Eyre or Oliver Twist or Elizabeth Bennett or Ebenezer Scrooge). 

Okay, yes, the casting affected the film enough that it's all I've talked about for my whole post. But I wouldn't have bothered talking about it if I hadn't enjoyed the movie and thought that it was well-done as far as pacing and theme and costumes and acting and everything. And because such a nice, well-rounded, likable movie had this type of casting, it does indeed suggest the beginning of a new era. I love Victorian novels, but they're, well, old. Filmmakers are always looking for ways to freshen up the favorites especially when they've been adapted a dozen times already. So why not do so with the casting? 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Super Chunks & Zak's Chocolate: Guatemala Chocolate Ice Cream

You know, sometimes I just love living in Scottsdale. Among its charms are the many small businesses. I've been going heavy on Zak's Chocolate products this year, and the one I have today is another collaboration. This is Guatemala Chocolate Ice Cream made by Super Chunks Sweets & Treats with chocolate from Zak's. Super Chunks is in Old Town (conveniently placed for locals and tourists alike). While I have not visited their shop yet, I have read about them (their desserts are quite photogenic). They're a husband and wife team just like Zak's is, which is cool. 

I purchased this ice cream from Zak's (it recently came back in stock after a short time away); I'm not sure if it's something that Super Chunks keeps on hand, too, or not. Point being that you may or may not have to plan ahead a big to get it. It came in a simple white container. And yes, this is a small, pint size. That works for me as this is normally the size I get on those occasions when I am buying ice cream. 

The color is lighter than I had expected; it's a soft, milky brown. I served some up in a little condiment bowl in my attempt to get a photo. Ice cream is one of the products I've had the most trouble photographing over the years--although I think the chocolate pasta was worse. Staging is the difficult part, you know? (And you can see here that I don't have a nice, rounded ice cream scoop. That would have given it a more even look in the bowl.)

The chocolate here is the Guatemala Lachua 70% (click here for that review). I was struck instantly by how genuine the chocolate flavor is in the ice cream. It isn't that it's super dark or deep, as you can tell from the light color. You can taste the creamy milkiness, though the chocolate flavor is still in the center. It is excellent chocolate flavor despite not being a "super dark" chocolate ice cream. Because after all, "super dark" isn't the definition of good, anyway. I'm a big proponent of classics, or of letting each product be the best version of itself. So I usually choose vanilla ice cream over chocolate because when I want good chocolate flavor, I reach for a chocolate bar rather than ice cream. So I like that this ice cream still retains that creamy feel that is specific to ice cream. 

And yet even in doing so, it delivers that wonderful chocolate flavor. You could almost, then, call this more of a milk chocolate (after all, it is chocolate plus cream). I don't taste all the flavor notes I listed in the chocolate bar, but there is still more nuanced flavor here than is typical for ice cream. And I'll also add this note. One of the best-tasting chocolate ice creams I can remember having had (I don't recall who made it) unfortunately had a slightly grainy texture, perhaps from cocoa powder. So I will add that the texture here is perfectly normal.

This is an excellent collaboration (as well as a reminder that I do need to give Super Chunks Sweets & Treats a visit sometime). How you approach it is of course entirely up to you. Maybe you'll serve it up in condiment bowls like I did or maybe you'll just cuddle up to the pint with a spoon. Or maybe it'll be an accent to a special occasion dessert--some birthday or anniversary cake, perhaps? 

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Truffle Selection

 In celebration of a chocolate blogger's birthday, today I have an extra review. I treated myself to some truffles from Zak's Chocolate. One of the advantages of having to do curbside pickup right now is that they can add extra prep to your selection. Their website lists the flavors available for each day, so you just write in the notes of your order which ones you would like. 

Normally when you're choosing from the glass case in store, that's that. But when I went to pick up my box, it came with this handy label on the inside. The pretty pink background with vines would seem to be selected especially for my box of floral truffles, no? And because I was celebrating and therefore especially admiring of beauty, I didn't cut open these truffles to take pictures of their insides. Let them be this time. Their look is classic, with minimal embellishments.

Rose Caramel - This is the soft square with some pink sugar crystals on the corner. It smells fragrant like rose even before tasting. The caramel here is a chewy caramel, which I was enjoying when I was (gently, in a ladylike manner) hit with the rose flavor. Since the thicker caramel lingers in your mouth more than a liquid caramel would, it gives you a chance to linger on the rose flavor.  It reminds me more specifically of rose petals than of rose candy. Glancing back at the flavor descriptions, I saw that the caramel is infused with rose petals, so of course that would be why; ingredients and process do make quite a difference to the final product. This is fantastic, a treat for the rose-lover. While the caramel is chewy caramel, it isn't stiff, so it is still soft and flavorful and elegant. The rose flavor lingers in the mouth, too, which is nice. Because of the stronger rose flavor, I enjoyed this caramel more than the rose truffle that came in the Valentine's Day box I chose a couple years ago.

Peach Blossom - This would be the rounded dome with the pale color swirls. Here the aroma is chocolate, and inside is a deep ganache inside. First I simply tasted the ganache and then the peach. It is sweet but also slightly tart but all with the rich chocolate to act as a grounded base. The taste is fresh peach that also lingers a bit, though not so much as the rose. The effect is somehow quite decadent, though that isn't what I would have predicted from a peach truffle. I wasn't expecting to dislike it, but I'm liking it more than I'd expected.

Raspberry Rose - On that Valentine's Day selection, I had skipped the Raspberry Rose because I usually skip raspberries. But I'm giving berries a chance these days and expanding my flavor ranges. This truffle is the elegant square with the pink print. I can smell the raspberry. The bite in is soft as the chocolate isn't too thick. So you go right to ganache, which tastes of chocolate and raspberries. Like fresh, ripe raspberries in their prime and best flavor, not sour or bitter. The berry flavor goes excellent with the rich chocolate. Perhaps when I specifically seek the rose flavor, I can find it, but it's more of an accent. The raspberry is the main event, blended with the chocolate. Compared with the two previous truffles, the chocolate is most prominent in this one so far. So this truffle is also quite nice and indulgent and I'm glad I didn't keep shunning it. It was well worth the venture.

Hazelnut Crunch - I went a little off for the floral bundle by throwing a nut in there, but it was what I wanted, so there. And why not add a twist to the flowers by including a nut? Hazelnuts are a little bit of a favorite of mine. The geometric dome has a funky one next to the other more feminine truffles. Its texture is lightly crispy/crunchy accompanied by the flavor of chocolate and fresh hazelnuts. I was starting to get a certain texture in my teeth that seemed different when I once again glanced back at the flavor descriptions and saw that these are lightly caramelized hazelnuts. Interesting, I don't know if I've ever had that before. The texture is halfway between a ganache and a praline. It's a welcome effect, adding a slightly different angle to a familiar type of chocolate.

In fact, this selection is probably one of my favorites. Usually when you choose a few truffles, you'll have your stand outs and the ones you didn't love as much. But I greatly enjoyed all four of these.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Mulan: A Graceful Discovery of Identity

 Of the Disney live action remakes, the idea of Mulan made the most sense to me. The animated film lends itself well to live action because it is in fact much like watching an action movie, something more associated with live action than with animation. And I think it's generally one of the underrated (or under remembered?) of the Disney animated films, so I've been excited just to see more of the story.

This movie would definitely have looked better on the big screen than on my laptop (not that my TV is much bigger, but anyway it isn't new enough to be able to play Disney+, which is why I'm limited to my laptop for their content). Visually, it's a nice-looking action movie. Because that is what this movie is: it's an epic, a legend, the story of a heroine representing her family and her country. 

Niki Caro's Mulan returns the story to a specific time and place in Imperial China. Therefore it has much more respect for the traditions of that time and place (I will state outright that I have little knowledge of such traditions; there are others more qualified than me to speak at length on that, so that isn't my goal). For instance the marriage plot. We see Mulan as a girl and then a young woman with talents and interests that don't fit in with the docile and proper image of a female in her community. But instead of the film showing her as a klutz like in the animated version, we see her display extreme agility in the tea serving scene--just not in a way that fits within the role she was supposed to play while serving tea. And while we see Mulan's hesitation about the idea of marriage, the film does not condemn a whole society's approach to marriage. At the end, Mulan's sister shyly and excitedly tells her that she has been matched and she is pleased with the match. This is important: it means that the story is not meaning to upend the entire culture. After all, the story comes from this culture.

So Mulan's personal journey is a little different in this movie than in the animated one. We don't see her learning new skills (battle) that better suit her personality (as compared to domesticity). We see her learning to accept a part of herself. And because it is a part of herself, her community accepts it, as well. Mulan is not a rebel. She doesn't go to war because she's sick of serving tea and wants to wield a sword. She goes to war to honor her family. She knows that her father cannot and that she can. 

Which brings us to another important point. Humility. The animated film makes a bigger deal of Mulan's willingness to stand out, whereas the live action shows that Mulan is respectful to her culture. Respect for elders and leadership is big, as is a certain humility and calmness of bearing oneself. She's not a big-mouthed, 21st century American. And given that I'm a little sick of the big-mouthed rebel characters, this was refreshing. Mulan takes action and is respectful at the same time. That is why she is remembered as a heroine of legend.

At certain beats in the story, I did wish each new realization had the weight that it did in the animated version. For instance, the "To Be a Man" sequence is a huge turning point as Mulan realizes that with strength and determination, she can achieve as much as anyone around her can. Live action Mulan's realization of how to express her own strength is quieter--which is in character but makes the emotional journey appear more subtle on screen. 

I didn't care for what I saw of the witch, Xian Lang, in the trailers. But when you watch the movie, her role makes sense. She is the foil or flip side for Mulan. She allows Mulan to have dialogue with someone about what she is going through. And she provides that necessary contrast, to show what Mulan is doing. Again, Mulan is not bitter and rejected (well, at least not as rejected as Xian Lang, though she's already brought some dishonor to her family); she is seeking to honor her community. Mulan and Xian Lang both realize that it is possible to fully express this personality as a female and still have the respect of the community. It's quite . . . graceful. 

They also did a good portrayal of Mulan's relationship with her fellow soldiers. Their camaraderie is natural and genuine. And after hearing that Shang would be taken out (I understand why they wouldn't want Mulan's love interest to also be her commanding officer, even though I don't myself mind it in the animated version), I was glad to see a bit of a love story in there. Just nice and subtle to satisfy those of us who are happy to see it but small enough not to bother those who don't want it. 

Because the point of the story is not that Mulan gets a relationship. Outwardly, she finds her place within her community. Inwardly, she finds her place with herself. And she is able to reconcile the two. She finds that she is loyal and brave but wants to also be true. So her secret is not discovered by circumstances out of her control (the treating of her injuries). She freely tells it herself. Again, her motivation is not rebellion, it is aligning herself with the virtue's of her people. She wants to be true to herself and to them. 

I'm sure I could continue rambling, but I suppose these are my main thoughts. Because this is a war movie, it probably won't be one that I'll be rewatching often. But I did think that overall they did a nice job with it. It reminds me a lot of Cinderella in the sense that it freshened up the familiar story and quietly added a graceful nature to its heroine that would still resonate with modern audiences. 

Friday, September 4, 2020

Zak's Chocolate: Papua New Guinea 70%

 Returning to the single origin bars from Zak's Chocolate, today we have their Papua New Guinea 70%. The paper this time is blue and silver, which go excellently once more with the blue foil side of the inside wrapping. The pattern, too, blends well with the usual diamond shapes on the chocolate. Flavor notes here are black cherry and tobacco leaf. 

The chocolate's aroma is intoxicating, with what I call silver notes. (I call chocolate blue, red, silver, but why not ever gold?) Blue and silver, as in the packaging, are definitely this chocolate's colors. Its profile is bewitchingly smooth.

Beginning with a tender mouthfeel and smooth chocolate flavor, this chocolate is light and glistening. Like if chocolate were glass--or diamonds, perhaps? Then it deepens to something perhaps a tad earthier and richer. That rich chocolate taste that develops is akin to a ganache. In that rich chocolate flavor is where you would find the black cherry notes; it's like a flourless chocolate cake in regards to that flavor. The chocolate melts away as tenderly as it began, leaving behind a delicately tangy taste of bliss.

There tend to be the chocolates that are filled with flavor notes and the chocolates that simply have cocoa notes; I would say this one lands somewhere in between. It has complex flavor but not quite that layered flavor. So it has that blessed simplicity of the chocolate flavor we all love while also offering a more nuanced profile. That combination of both sides is what makes it such a stunner, like an entrancing lover. 

It's cool and suave while also sensitive and understanding. There is zero bitterness to this chocolate, so it's quite approachable. The tobacco leaf flavor note implied something a little more intimidating to me, but perhaps the touch of earthiness or even my analogy of a lover was my interpretation of the tobacco (not that I would want a lover who smokes tobacco--I'm talking archetypes here--but I digress). So it is another great exploration of chocolate from Zak's. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Words You See

 Generally, I'm not into all the signs with words (and if you are, I don't mean to be rude; I'm just expressing what I like). "Family" or "Laughter" or "Today is a day to have a good day" or whatnot. I would rather express than put up words. Words aren't decor to me. (And they're also a current decor trend and I mainly avoid those, anyway, so I guess I would steer away from the words trend just like any other trend.)

However, sometimes when there are words around so much, you find yourself putting them out, too. And it's kind of comforting. The most subtle one is this little Bible verse print out. I got it in a Christmas money gift a couple years ago and absently set it on this Victorian cracker tray (yes, they had cracker trays--isn't that awesome?) when I was unpacking my things. But it stayed and stayed and stayed some more until eventually I decided that I quite liked it. After all, I'm not really going to use the cracker tray for crackers (even if I wanted to, they would have to be tiny crackers barely bigger than quarters). So why not use it as a little display on my table for some words that don't stand out decor-wise but are a welcome reminder when you stop to look at them closely?

The one in my hallway (where I keep my "newer" pictures) has been there for the longest. I like Hobby Lobby, sure, but like I said, I usually steer clear of all the signs with words on them and Hobby Lobby is full of signs with words on them. But when I saw this one in the 90% off section, I rather liked it. It seems different, no? The metal actually looks like copper and it's more like a label, a statement than a decor sign. When I saw it, I thought, yes, that's what I want to declare for my house. (As it is a hallway and therefore rather dark in the picture, the verse is Joshua 24:25, "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.")

And then I was there again recently picking up a couple things and I saw these magnets. Some had generic things on them and others had Bible verses. Are you seeing the trend now? I'm still not so much into the sayings, but I'm okay with putting out Bible verses. Those are good things to contemplate. I often forget that I already have word magnets on my refrigerator; I use them so infrequently. What with the size and layout of my kitchen, the front of the refrigerator isn't hugely visible. So why not bend on my whole avoidance of signs with a little magnet that says something very special?

If I'm putting words out in my house, I don't want them to point to me. I don't want them to glorify me. I want them to point me to God.