Friday, January 29, 2021

Casa Grande: Chocoberry (Strawberry & Dark Chocolate)

Though this product seems timely with Valentine's Day coming up, it has in fact been sitting in wait for months. I like to buy chocolate when I see it at World Market because some things linger but others you might never see again. But at the time, I had so much seasonal chocolate to get through first. So the pink Chocoberry box has been patient with me. 

The company is Casa Grande Fabrica de Chocolates out of Portugal. From what I can tell, this is a small company. The box also mentions the name Not Guilty - The Right Way. So I'm not sure if that's the parent company or what other types of foods they might also make besides chocolate. The chocolate comes with UTZ certification, which aims for both social and environmental sustainability. 

Now, when I come across a square box like this, I expect a twist on the chocolate orange. I've seen strawberry versions of chocolate oranges before, so that's what I was expecting here even though the box really don't say that that's what's inside. In fact, it doesn't say much. Chocoberry is ambiguous. Strawberry and Dark Chocolate can come across in a variety of ways, as well. So I was not expecting to open up the box and find inside a clear bag of little chocolate lumps. The lumps are in fact freeze-dried strawberries covered in chocolate. That's certainly new to me.

Given the simple presentation in the bag and the fact that they did have bloom on the surface (the importing plus the long wait after I brought them home meant that I got to them just a month before their best buy date), they weren't exactly the most attractive thing to find inside of a cute pink box. But the concept is interesting, isn't it? Chocolate-covered strawberries have to be fresh, so freeze-drying them gives them a shelf life. Freeze-dried strawberry pieces in chocolate isn't uncommon, but I had never come across the whole berry like this before. 

As you bite in, you come across tart strawberry with a little chocolate. The thickness of the coating varies, as does the size of the strawberries. They're real berries, after all. The variation adds to the appeal and uniqueness of each bite. The familiar freeze-dried crunch is especially strong here because most of these are bigger than usual pieces. Usually when I come across freeze-dried strawberries, the pieces are fairly small or thin. It isn't a bad crunch, though. 

It's hard to get a good grip on the chocolate's flavor. At 50% cocoa, it's a mild dark chocolate but happily is not victim to the super sweet dark chocolate trait. So I suppose that makes it a pleasant companion to the strawberries. While I don't believe I've ever had chocolate made in Portugal before, I do come across chocolate from Spain every once in a while. And the more I ponder it, the more I feel like there is a certain flavor to this chocolate that reminds me of Spanish chocolate. There is a certain sweet-but-not-sweet or even slightly milky taste (even though there is no milk in here).

Whether whole, freeze-dried, chocolate-covered strawberries is a great idea of an oddity or a novelty I've not entirely decided. I do enjoy eating them, but it's more in a snacking sort of way. You could probably dress them up the way you would fresh strawberries, but I find that they have more casual appeal. So they are a pleasant sweet snack.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

To Tell a Story

When I tell people that I've published books, they get excited and often share that they, too, have always wanted to write a book. So I like to encourage people to go ahead and just write whatever they feel led to write--whether or not you end up writing a book or whether or not you end up deciding to publish it, if it's the act of writing that you crave, then freely writing will still be a good thing either way. 

It has never been such a common thing as it is now for anyone to write a book--because literacy has never been so high. It was really only in about the nineteenth century that literacy became widespread. So it has never been possible for so many people to write, and there never has been such a wide demand for content to read. But it has always been our instinct to write.

Before blogging and social media, before Lulu, before emails, we wrote letters and travel journals. Perhaps this is why I like pioneer journals so much. Formal letter-writing I associate more with the upper classes who could read and write before the masses could. But a person who had been to school for a couple years and had a copy of the Bible or a McGuffey Reader to practice with was capable of recording their own experience traveling across new terrain or setting up a homestead. They used paper to tell their own stories. 

And that's what we were doing before literacy, too. Before we could write the words, we spoke them. You could tell your children a fairy tale or the family history. You could tell your neighbors about the time you got caught in a blizzard. You could tell your friends about how you met your spouse. We have always told stories. 

So don't feel like only other people write books. Don't feel like you can't do what you would like to do. Don't feel like you have nothing new to add. There has never been another you. Maybe you will tell stories for millions. Maybe for thousands. Maybe hundreds. Maybe dozens. Maybe for one. Maybe just for yourself. But tell your stories, exercise your mind, and write what you want to write. Because it is a good and natural instinct to want to share your stories. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Looking Back and Forward

Over the past year, I've been hinting about things going on in my life. Today I'll share part of what has been happening.

I didn't realize until last year that I had written two books about depression (while my novel of course isn't autobiographical, you do pour indirectly into your writing). It just depends on what words you use, I guess. I said "darkness." So I had a "wait, what, no" moment when people started to use the other word in reference to me. You see, panic attacks (characterized first by chest pain and some rapid breathing, then with the third one by full hyperventilation plus numb hands) led me to, well, desperation. I took steps. Someone at church I could talk to, and a professional counselor, and then a doctor. 

The doctor I didn't go to specifically for the panic attacks, but that's beside the point. Point is, I hadn't previously gone to any type of doctor besides the eye doctor and dentist. I said I wasn't sure if that was because I was afraid of all the things they'd find that were wrong with me or that they wouldn't find anything wrong. Of course this doctor did find something wrong--just not what I had expected.

Not that I hadn't ever noticed it before. But I just never gave a second thought to the lump in my neck. I suppose on one level I didn't want to know; on the other I literally didn't even know what it meant, so it didn't seem to matter. So. A thyroid ultrasound confirmed the presence of a fairly large nodule (it's visible in pictures of me). I went to an endocrinologist and had a biopsy done of it last March. 

That's right, March 2020. I had it done on Wednesday and took Thursday off from work. Then I went in on Friday, also known as Doomsday, and the whole world started crying out of fear and confusion while I was in my own personal moment of fear and confusion. 

Well. They had to run additional tests on the sample, so it took a month before I got the final results back. In the chaos of spring 2020, I was waiting through my own personal difficulties. Though all indications seemed to be that it wasn't cancer (and my thyroid blood test had been normal even using a much narrower range than most doctors use), there was a chance of cancer based on the results. So they were recommending surgery as the only way to tell if it was or wasn't caner--which would mean removing the whole thyroid and therefore making it necessary for me to be on medication for the rest of my life. 

Of course, at this time elective surgeries were halted. So I thought it funny that this thing that had been developing slowly for at least a decade had only come under the attention of doctors when I literally could not have surgery. I don't think that's a coincidence. The idea of surgery scared me like it would anyone else, so I tried to just not think about it while I had the chance not to (after all, this was completely non-urgent). But over the next couple months, some new friends of mine mentioned that I might want to consider seeing a naturopath. At the very least, it could be like getting a second opinion.

While I like buying organic and using vinegar to clean instead of toxic chemicals and things of that sort, I honestly didn't really know what a naturopath meant. So I'd never looked into it. In case you're like me in unfamiliarity, I'll make the distinction that naturopaths are still medically trained like regular doctors are--except not like regular doctors because they also train in different methods. (It isn't like making an appointment with the person selling tea and herbs at the swap meet.) They look at the whole body and focus on helping the body to heal itself so that the root causes can be treated rather than just the symptoms. So it takes time and lifestyle changes. 

What I didn't like about the idea of surgery, besides the mere idea, was that it didn't seem to even care why this had happened in the first place. I didn't want to fix the symptoms and then create more issues by removing an important body part. I wanted healing; I wanted to address the core issues. So I've been seeing a naturopath since last summer, and there should be no need for surgery. A second thyroid ultrasound in October showed some small improvement, and while I certainly expect to see more, it's a long road. Again, this didn't form overnight, so it won't go away overnight, either. 

Thyroid issues in themselves can cause anxiety and depression. There has probably, then, been a physical factor to my bad anxiety in the last couple years. But what also seems to be the case is that years of bottling things up just kind of exploded on me. I started literally bursting from my skin. So I've been taking a look at myself and my mind and my life and sorting through it all. It's a process, it's a process.

It's one of those things where, well, yes, God could just heal me. But I wouldn't learn anything from that. I need to let him heal all of the hurts of sorrow in my life. So I've been trying to take time for rest and reflection so that I can destress and find joy and give my body a break. I'm taking my medicine and listening to advice. There is improvement, in various ways. And if those moments come when it feels like I'm literally choking on anxiety and I can't stand being in my own skin, I declare that God is greater than all. It's quite nice to know that I am loved and cared for by the Creator of the world and to know that none of this alters that fact. I've been experiencing this great explosion so that I can walk out of it with more assurance and greater peace. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Chuao: Cheeky Cheeky Churro

Maybe I'm just picky (okay, this is true, too), or maybe the chocolate companies have just run out of names for their chocolate bars. Because here I am running into yet another whose name I just don't get. Cheeky Cheeky Churro--really? Chocolate Churro or Churro Dark Chocolate wasn't good enough? Or not cheeky enough, I should say? 

The funny thing is that when I go to Chuao's website to look at the page for this bar, they say that they like to "invite a touch of sparkle and sass to everything" they do. So I guess adding essence of churros to a chocolate bar is considered sassy, or cheeky. But is it really? I get the boldness of certain dessert-inspired chocolate bars. But this one feels fairly simple being that churros are mainly characterized by cinnamon and sugar--both of which go quite naturally with chocolate. And how is it cheeky to add "a little latin flair" to chocolate when cocoa has so much history in the so-called latin countries (with cinnamon, too)? Like I said, it doesn't make sense to me--but it also doesn't really matter. The name is just a way to add some flair.

Because I was so harsh on the name, I'll say straight from the start that I did really enjoy this bar. I got the mini size, which is teeny tiny at just 11 grams. Unwrapped it seems hardly bigger than a couple of quarters. It comes in full size, too, if you prefer that. I, however, always appreciate a smaller option--especially when it comes to something like cocoa with such ethical concerns around sourcing. Though it's so tiny, there are three breaks in the bar, so you can enjoy it in three or even six bites. On the back, you'll see sprinkles of sugar and cinnamon.

These come into the aroma, as well, along with the semisweet dark chocolate (it's 60% cocoa). Because the chocolate bar is so small and therefore also quite thin, those sprinkles of sugar on the back blend with the whole layer of chocolate as you bite in. So the effect is much like biting into that distinctive, crumbly texture of Mexican hot chocolate (Abuelita or Ibarra). Both the chocolate's scent and the initial part of the bite are reminiscent of this, too, given the inclusion of cinnamon, until the hot chocolate feeling fades in favor of a specifically churro approach to cinnamon. That is, a churro with a chocolate focus. So say a churro dipped in melted chocolate. How is it, then, that Chuao achieves this specific approach to cinnamon?

Let's return to those sprinkles. I have been referring to sugar and cinnamon, but really this is more like cinnamon sugar. And cinnamon sugar is different from simply cinnamon. Cinnamon sugar is sugar flavored with cinnamon, so it is much sweeter than cinnamon on its own, which is strong and spicy. Being again that this bar is so thin, you especially get to focus on the sugar crystals. I do wonder how the full size bar compares; maybe it's pretty much the same, but I would imagine the effect has to be quite different. Now, besides the sugar, there are also crumbly pieces of "bread" inside the chocolate. They're just little crispy crunches, not entirely unlike what you would get if you took a knife and started shaving off the fried edges of a churro. In the face of the sugar, they're subtle. You don't necessarily notice that they're there at first, but they do add to the crumbly texture and also add the dough element that you have in a churro but not in a bar of cinnamon chocolate. 

The chocolate is a mild dark chocolate that also doesn't veer too much on the sweet side. It's the perfect stand-in for either a little dish of melted chocolate that you might dip a churro in or the cup of hot chocolate that might accompany dessert time. 

What's so great about this chocolate bar is that the concept is simple, but they took extra steps to make it specifically churro chocolate. They could have made a good cinnamon chocolate and called it a day. Instead, though, they sprinkled cinnamon and sugar over crispy bread to make the focus specific. I've had plenty of chocolate with cinnamon, but I've never had a churro chocolate bar before. So in the zone of desserts turned into chocolate bars, this is one of the pleasantly successful examples. 

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Reactions to DBG's Wind Installation

To say that I like art would be too broad of a statement--just as it would be too broad of a statement to say that I don't like modern art. Maybe we could say, though, that what you might generally think of as "modern art" is the type of art in which I am less interested. So while I enjoy spending time at the Desert Botanical Garden, not all of the art installations that they have had have been my favorite. The last one they did was fun, but some I have found disruptive to the garden's natural beauty.

So far, the current one is not like that; it blends in cohesively. Wind, Water, and Earth will be presented in three parts, each available for about a month. Natasha Lisitsa and Daniel Schultz of Waterlily Pond Studio have put these together with inspiration from the desert. Wind just opened this week. Three large metal rings provide the base for a kind of floral arrangement of desert branches. 

Being that the rings take up very little eye space and are painted a neutral, sandy color and that the top arrangement is made out of desert elements, this installation isn't jarring to the surrounding plants and landscape. It fits in, and I appreciate that. Other than that, it feels at first like a small thing to come and see. I mean, it's tall (16 feet)--but it's just three metal rings with a twig arrangement on top, right? From the descriptions of it, I thought it was going to be something more interactive. I thought maybe it would rotate and shift in the wind (and it was a windy day when I went to see it). But it just sits there.

Granted, I believe the intention was to be able to walk through the rings and look up into the arrangement, but it was gently partitioned off to walking (I suppose to prevent the possibility of multiple people touching the same surface, or walking in the same space--even though the garden is empty of people these days). So that would have been more interactive. In lieu of that, I walked all around in a circle and looked up at it from different angles with the sun and got my face up as close as I could to imagine what it would be like to be standing in the rings and looking up. And that gave me plenty to look at.

While the metal rings suggest "modern art," the top piece is like a floral arrangement you'd find at a farmer's market or a high end eco florist. So it's like a festive wreath--or almost a Victorian hat the way that there is so much volume sitting on top of the round rings. The use of natural elements, then, creates a classy rather than rustic or homespun look. 

Though at first glance, the tangle of twigs looks just to be all natural elements, as you observe, you begin to see that much of it is painted. This creates brightness and contrast. Why the pink, though? Well, if the idea is to recreate a desert dust storm, pink is a fitting way to evoke the warm-hued clouds of dust. And the tumbleweeds are certainly elements you'll see tossing about in the wind. The tree branches are, as well: not only will they sway in the wind, but sometimes they'll break off. It isn't uncommon to see a palo verde completely toppled over in a parking lot after a bad storm. 

On the day when I went to see this installation, there was bright sun along with attractive cloud patterns. This made looking up at the twig tangle especially picturesque--though a day with more cloud coverage probably would have provided better lighting for pictures. 

So maybe this piece was successful then. Visually, it suits the space. Thematically, it fits in with the place. And it provided me with something extra and new to observe while in the garden, and then something more to reflect on after I left. That's a good art installation, right? I only wish that, since the three installations are all in different locations in the garden, that they could have all gone on at the same time. (I'm guessing that the reason for this is the natural materials. These only last so long when left outside, especially what with all the winter rain coming in the next few days. Usually the garden's art installations last for a year, but even with spacing these out they're only going to be for three months.) Still, I'll be curious to see the next two--and maybe to return and see this one in different lighting. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Theo: Nougottohavit

Some things finish off better than they begin. That was the story for the last installment in my look at Theo's handmade confections. The name Nougottohavit, well, doesn't appeal to me. Such word play and word creation reminds me of the lesser, often short-lived (or at least less-liked) products from the likes of Hershey's (Whatchamacallit and such). So rather than putting me in mind of handmade chocolate or even just classic candy, it reminds me of cheapness. But it's just the name.

My doubts continued into the packaging, too, though. While the basic look is the same as it was for the Fremont Chew from yesterday, the magenta-raspberry (I could never be a fashion designer; I don't know my colors) doesn't give me the same vintage vibe. And this packaging, if anything, I found even more difficult to unwrap neatly (I like neatly): the outer wrapper had a glossy coat on it that didn't allow it to tear well at all, and even the foil had a sort of paper layer on its inside (versus being one layer that is foil on the outside and foil on the inside) that added a bit to the mess. However, the complaints end there.

Like the Fremont Chew, this chocolate bar is a little more stout than the average candy bar. This is dark chocolate instead of milk; instead of reversing the look and decorating it with swirls of milk chocolate, the top is simply designed with texture ridges. As with the Big Daddy Marshmallows, the candy slices open to reveal beautiful layering. The nougat fills in the top half of the space, while the caramel dotted with almonds sits in the bottom half. All four layers of surrounding chocolate are if even thickness. 

So based on the elements, this is obviously a Snickers-inspired confection. Just think of it as your best memories of Snickers, not as what Snickers actually is. The first bite is decadent: you get those lovely layers of soft nougat and chewy caramel. The almonds are nice and small so they add texture more than crunch; they seem to be more mellow than the peanuts in Snickers, if my memory serves. There is a slight saltiness in the mix, which doesn't taste like salted caramel; it tastes like the salt goes along with the almonds. That, in turn, keeps the almonds in casual territory; they don't feel like a "healthier" option or something like that. 

The dark chocolate is pretty mild, like in Theo's other confections. So what the dark chocolate here seems to do (versus if they had kept to the traditional milk chocolate) (and besides making it sound more posh) is to keep things from becoming too sweet or greasy. There is still plenty of caramel and nougat. The chocolate makes an envelope for the sweet elements and holds then in rather than acting as the main focus of each bite. I don't taste the nougat hugely on its own; the caramel is the star, with the nougat helping it show off (and adding to the texture, of course). The almonds are the sidekick to the caramel. It's a gooey caramel but not stiff and has excellent, classic flavor. While the caramel certainly couldn't hold the place that it does without its friends of almond, nougat, and chocolate, it's the one I notice most. 

So while my comments on the packaging were the opposite, I've been enjoying the Nougottohavit even more than the Fremont Chew. The theme is the same as it's been all week: better ingredients and a handmade quality make for a much better interpretation of a classic sweet. I'm rather sad to see the end of my week of chocolate confections, so maybe I'll look at some more casual chocolate bars in the next couple weeks before easing into the serious ones again. (Although Valentine's Day is also coming up, so it'll be time for me to get my yearly box from Valerie Confections soon--I guess I'm not done with the sweets yet after all.)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Theo: Fremont Chew

The fourth handmade confection that I'm looking at from Theo this week is a classic example of an upscaled candy bar. The Fremont Chew, described as marshmallow nougat enrobed in milk chocolate, takes its basic inspiration from a 3 Musketeers bar. Along with Milky Way, 3 Musketeers was one of my favorite chocolate candy bars (KitKat was the top). Soft, vanilla sweetness and chocolate. While I haven't exactly found myself missing them in the years that it's been since I had one, a chocolate reminiscent of such once-familiar chocolate candies is welcome.

With pastel colors and another simple design, we have a pretty and vintage type look. My minor complaint would be that I couldn't open up or tear off the outer wrapper without making a frayed mess; I like something a little neater, especially if I'm not planning on eating it all at once. The foil unfolds nicely, though. Like we've seen earlier in the week, the milk chocolate is decorated with darker-colored swirls for a classic confection look. That brings us decidedly away from mass-produced Mars candies and over to small sweet shops. 

The bar I would guess is about the same length as an average candy bar (they come in so many different sizes nowadays and I rarely ever buy them anymore, so I can't say for sure), just thicker. It gives off the aroma of sweet, vanilla-filled confections and marshmallow. The inside is certainly much more marshmallow-looking than I'd expected. I'd expected nougat with a twist, but the decidedly white filling looks more like marshmallow with a hint of nougat than the other way around. 

You can see that the top layer of chocolate was slightly thicker than the bottom or side layers due to the slightly rounded top. This doesn't negatively affect the bite, though, since milk chocolate is quite soft. Immediately on biting in, I got a nostalgic hit of Easter for some reason. It took me back somewhere I couldn't quite define. After contemplation, I believe I was thinking of the Easter egg malt balls. 

Here is why I would make that comparison. There is a definite marshmallow taste--but a specific kind of taste that is also somewhat chalky (I do love chalky candy) and still contains some of the standard nougat flavor. Along with the vanilla and nougat and marshmallow, though, there is another flavor. Although they still used sugar and corn syrup, there is also honey listed in the ingredients, and I believe the honey is responsible for this extra taste. It's a specific, rich flavor, and it seems to be what my mind initially connected to the malt of Easter egg candy. 

So don't worry that this chocolate tastes like those candies (though it's probably been at least a couple decades since I had any, I think it's safe to say that they're in a different quality level). The flavors are primarily gourmet marshmallow (handmade as opposed to grocery store) and sweet milk chocolate. Since it's Theo, of course, the milk chocolate is good even though it is sweet. The nougat has a particular texture that is perhaps what also added to my malt comparison. It's very soft and while it begins with the expected fluffiness, it dissolves when it hits the tongue. So each bite disappears pretty fast, and you are left with some milk chocolate to finish off. While I'm not a candy maker, I would guess that the use of honey might also contribute to such quick melting. 

In a way, this is the least exciting of the confections I've looked at so far this week. But once more, that isn't really the point. The point is simply to rework a confection with better ingredients and just a slightly different approach. The difference that the ingredients alone make is worth it. Like I said, I really don't buy 3 Musketeers or Milky Way anymore (that just isn't the type of product I want to support), but if I lived near Theo's flagship store, I could see wanting to stop in for this chocolate every once in a while. And the marshmallow twist on the nougat was interesting, not so unusual as to take away from the simple nostalgia but still enough to freshen things up. So yes, the Fremont Chew was another nicely eatable chocolate confection. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Theo: Caramel Pecan Turtle

Day three of our look at Theo's handmade confections brings us to a classic sweet, the Caramel Pecan Turtle. While many confection shops will make these in simple cluster shapes, some will give a rough suggestion of a turtle design. And others use a turtle chocolate mold, as Theo does here. It may be that the taste is what matters most--but the turtle mold seems to me the most pleasing option of the three.

With such a cute chocolate turtle, there is no need for more than simple packaging. The turtle sits in a white box covered in a clear lid to let you look in and see it. A green-edged label with some teeny turtles finishes it all off. Even though you can see the turtle through the lid, I exclaimed anew at its cuteness when seeing it without anything obscuring it. Simple pleasures, simple pleasures. A chocolate turtle is one of these. Its size is of two or three truffles, so it's larger than the chocolate turtle that Zak's Chocolate makes. 

I perhaps ought not to have mentioned Zak's, as their turtles are pretty perfect. They took the approach of building the turtle around a whole pecan half. Theo, however, goes with a more typical approach by making a larger turtle filled with the pecans and caramel. The slicing open of the turtle revealed that the bottom layer of chocolate is much thicker than the top and sides. Biting into it, as well, the disproportion is a tad too much; too thick of a layer starts to intrude on the experience of chocolate and filling. 

The slight hint at a twist that Theo does is to use salted caramel to house the roasted pecans. Not too unusual, though, given the popularity of salted caramel these days: it's almost getting rare to find a caramel that isn't salted. The caramel is gooey with a classic salted flavor. It took front and center on my first bite, though my second did have more pecan. There I could taste their sweet and woodsy flavor. Hazelnuts may be the ones that blend so well into chocolate, but on their own pecans are my favorite nut, so a good chocolate turtle is welcome indeed. 

The turtle's feet have no filling in them, but the caramel does get slightly into its head. So you have a fair amount of opportunity to taste the chocolate, which is a mild semisweet dark chocolate. It's refreshing to have a decent dark chocolate used in a confection. 

My nitpicking about the thickness of the bottom layer is really the only criticism to make. A chocolate turtle is a straightforward concept, and Theo approached it as such. It's a tasty sweet that disappeared on me quickly. Life's simple pleasures. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Theo: Big Daddy Marshmallow

Our second of the Theo handmade confections is the Big Daddy Marshmallow. In description, it sounds like it has more elements than yesterday's Lunar Pie did, but in its final state it is somewhat simpler. If the desired effect is to replicate campfire s'mores without a campfire and with some better chocolate and marshmallows, then the effect is achieved. 

There is certainly much more going on with packaging on this one. Of the five confections I ordered, this one has the most to look at before you even get to the chocolate. The outer sleeve is the color of a starry night sky, and using only white for both the text and illustrations means that they were able to pack in a lot of design and still keep a simple look to it. Well-done. Also notice that they don't use the words s'mores or campfire--it's all there in the imagery. One side of the sleeve shows off the four elements that compose this confection, while the other shows a mountainous territory with I suppose Bigfoot toasting a marshmallow on a fire. Trendy-cute-outdoorsy; it reminds me of all the little shops in Flagstaff. 

The sleeve slides off to a plain white box marked with the Theo label (which is what shows through the circle hole in the outer sleeve). The box is almost more like a jewelry box than a chocolate box; the feel is special. Inside under a thin cover are three marshmallows in their little square liners. They look like giant truffles in there; they're more the size of petits fours or chocolate-covered strawberries. Makes sense, though: graham crackers for s'mores are much bigger than truffles, too. 

While the blue sleeve had the least handmade style of the five confections, the chocolates definitely have it. The simple confection design of lighter colored swirls of chocolate on the dark surface puts in mind what you might find at a little, local chocolate confection shop. Except that since it's Theo you know that the chocolate will be good. (I don't mean to speak ill of little, local chocolate confection shops--but the ones I've come across don't always use the best chocolate to make their confections, or they water it down too much.)

It was easier than I'd expected to slice my knife into one of these squares. And I'm certainly glad I did: the four layers display in person almost as well as the do in the picture on the packaging. That's pretty rare, and I certainly wasn't expecting it with such gooey layers as marshmallow and caramel in there with the graham cracker and chocolate. Yet there they are, four distinct layers (well, the chocolate is on both top and bottom, so it's technically five layers, but you get the point). 

The marshmallow catches your teeth as you bite in, giving a delightful sort of snapping as it separates from the main piece. It's a little dense and chewy but not like the marshmallow of the Lunar Pie; this is more just the texture of a handmade, gourmet marshmallow (which, of course, it is) as opposed to one from a grocery store bag. The caramel adds in good flavor, especially towards the end when everything is almost melted out. 

In primary focus is the marshmallow, the chocolate and caramel seem to tie for second, and last comes the graham cracker. While graham crackers are a pretty big proportion of s'mores, I much prefer how it takes the backseat here. There is just a tad of crunch and graham flavor to ground the sweet, gooey elements. The chocolate is darker than your typical s'mores chocolate, and the caramel adds in a nice indulgence that helps to make up for the fact that nothing in here is melted as it would be in a campfire s'more. What's most fascinating is that, especially in the aftertaste, there is, however, something of a smoky taste. Whether it is in the caramel or the marshmallow or my imagination, I don't know. The molasses in the ingredients list may be what brings in that toasty flavor, but that's only speculation. 

While I'm not naming these marshmallow confections the "epiphany" that was the Lunar Pie, they remain delightful, extremely well-executed chocolates. The ingredients are good, and the flavors and textures are in balance--and so the effect is exactly as desired. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Theo: Lunar Pie

Being that it's more difficult these days to have things to post about and being that my chocolate reviews are usually the most popular posts, anyway, I've decided to just roll with it this week and put up all my reviews of Theo's handmade confections in one spurt. Like I mentioned before, these are products that the grocery stores don't sell (like their chocolate bars). They are normally only available at their flagship store in Seattle, but right now you can also buy them online. While I rarely buy chocolate online, winter is my opportunity to do so (without it melting). So I was able to get five of these chocolate confections.

The first is certainly not the least. The Lunar Pie is a simple concept, that "twist on a familiar confection" type of thing. But what a twist it is. You can see that Theo's description is "fluffy chocolate marshmallow and cocoa nib enrolled in dark chocolate." Marshmallow and chocolate sounds pretty standard, but cocoa nib? That isn't at all common for use in this context. 

The pie is big for a confection, about the size of one of my little fists. So bigger than if it were a Hostess cake. Because that, of course, is the main inspiration for something like this. (Might I also recommend the No Name Cakes at Mod Pizza if you just want an indulgence.) Unwrapping the little pie is delightful; the very fact that it appears so simple makes it appealing. My knife cutting for the picture turned out better than expected: the marshmallow is denser than average and therefore holds its shape enough that the chocolate didn't crumble and the whole pie kept its shape. 

There is a chocolate ice cream look to the inside, both in its color and consistency. That feeling carries on somewhat even when you begin eating (minus the whole melting part, of course). The initial burst is unexpected--in a positive way. There is so much more weight of flavor than one might expect in a simple chocolate and marshmallow confection. 

The aroma is of melted chocolate. The bite is of that chocolate layer giving way to softer marshmallow. The flavor is of chocolate and marshmallow and cocoa nibs. The chocolate layer is dark chocolate that has good flavor on its own; it's somewhere between semisweet and bittersweet. But it's the marshmallow itself that gives the specific flavor of nibs; that rich, blue taste. I never would have imagined cocoa nibs and marshmallow together and yet the effect is delightful.

You have that richer, you could say more adult flavor of the nibs paired with the sweetness and playfulness of the marshmallow. So there is nothing bitter about the final product (which is also unusual about the use of nibs, especially where their flavor remains intact) and yet it isn't exactly sweet (confection sweet, that is), either. It is truly its own type of product. 

As I mentioned, the texture is denser than the average marshmallow. It's a little chewier, too. Almost more like nougat--which may have something to do with my positive comments, as I like nougat much more than I like marshmallow. But it does have the flavor of marshmallow, which makes for a unique and thoughtful effect. As fun as it is, I find that a little can go a long way. Even just a couple of bites have enough richness to satisfy. 

This piece is like an epiphany, a gift to the world of chocolate. Part of what I do when I review is to simply categorize chocolates (as opposed to saying that they're good or bad, or putting them on a star scale). But this brings together two categories: confections and gourmet chocolates. You can both sit and ponder it and indulge on it. A great way to start our week of Theo confections.