Friday, February 26, 2021

Me to We: Milk Chocolate + Confetti Candy

I'm just all about the fun chocolate these days, am I not? Instead of bringing in a chocolate bar sourced from etc. with etc. flavor notes, here I am with Me to We's Milk Chocolate + Confetti Candy. Confetti Candy? Maybe the truth is, I like candy more than I thought (no, no, this isn't true--I know I like candy; I love going to candy stories; I just know I tend to prefer to talk about or look at candy than to eat it). But Me to We is a respectable, fair trade brand, and I enjoyed my first look at them a couple years ago. 

Me to We especially emphasizes children and education. So it's fitting that bars like this have appeal to kids, too, or the child in all of us that still gets excited about sprinkles (if I'm choosing a donut, I will probably choose the one with sprinkles, yes). The bright sky blue card box is sprinkled with confetti, leaves, and two llamas. It's colorful and bright but not too wild. Just fun.

While last time, the bar I tried was smaller; this one is double the size, so it has two of the smaller bars, individually-wrapped, inside the card box. This can also increase the child target. A half bar is something you could put in a child's lunchbox. Two siblings could each take one of the bars. Or you could give your child one and keep the other for yourself. Or eat both and tell me to stop expounding on all the ways to eat a bar of chocolate. 

Unwrapping that patterned wrapper, each square bar is divided into the same four squares from last time with the same design as before, as well. Flip it over, though, and you'll see the promised confetti candy. And yes, it is different from sprinkles. These are little, round, hard bits of sugar in white, purple, yellow, and various other colors. As you can see, they're sprinkled with restraint; you'll find no solid coating of confetti here. That would not have a good effect on texture.

What's unusual is that there is a strong cocoa nib aroma to the chocolate, which is unusual for milk chocolate. Now, this is a 42% milk chocolate, so it is stronger than average. But I've never come across that specific aroma with even a dark milk chocolate before. 

Trying the chocolate confetti down first, you can feel those smooth lumps of candy against your tongue. Then you begin to taste the chocolate. It tastes of cocoa and sugar, but more on that later. Trying confetti side up, the candy is much less present because you don't feel it on your tongue. So I'd recommend confetti down. Even with a small amount of confetti, there is still enough sugary crunch. Again, these are different from sprinkles; they're much harder lumps of sugar. What I don't know is what they're colored with: there are no colorings listed in the ingredients. This is an interesting way to put texture in chocolate, though. The obvious alternative would be to almonds or other nuts.

I spent a while trying to decode the chocolate's specific flavor. It's unusual, I'll tell you that. I want to describe it as being slightly watery, but that sounds unappetizing, which is not the case. The way that the flavor of the cocoa and sugar split into separate flavors naturally reminds me of Mexican hot chocolate a bit. But then there seems to be a flavor to the cocoa that is reminiscent perhaps of Ovaltine. I do see both dried milk and nonfat milk in the ingredients. So pure speculation, perhaps there is a flavor that I'm getting from the dried milk that gives the cocoa a unique edge? 

This chocolate does taste milkier than usual for a 42%. But it sweetness comes almost more from the candy than from the chocolate itself. So it's a good thing that they went for a stronger milk chocolate so as not to be too overcome by sugar like they might have been with a sweeter chocolate. However you put it, I've enjoyed this chocolate. I appreciate a satisfying milk chocolate about as much as a good dark chocolate, and I like the fun element of the confetti candy, as well. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Gila Monster Crossing

As I was meandering along, suddenly I noticed that there was a Gila monster a couple or few feet from me. It cared not for my presence; it was simply walking across the path. So I walked on, on the opposite side of the path from the (adorable) venomous lizard. 

What a delight to see such critters. Lizards are a favorite of mine because of my bearded dragon at home (or perhaps I have a bearded dragon at home because lizards are a favorite of mine). So though a Gila monster is much larger than a bearded dragon, I delighted in the shape of its limbs as it stepped slowly forward. It seemed bigger and chunkier than the ones in captivity that are usually curled up asleep in their enclosures. And that's the gist of it, isn't it?

Have I been the Gila monster curled up in captivity? So now as I am struck by the lizard out in its true home, I think of myself stretching out, reaching out, stepping out. 

The breeze feels nice on a sunny day. Gentle inclines seem to matter little after you've passed the steepest ones. Ocotillo fill up with leaves after rain and lift their limbs up to the sun.

And maybe, just maybe you might catch some early ocotillo blossoms, the bright red tips on the green octopus limbs. So go on, walk across the metaphorical path, just like the Gila monster did. 

Gateway Loop Trail - McDowell Sonoran Preserve.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Minari, Love, and Family

You know what was refreshing about Lee Isaac Chung's Minari? It included elements like race and culture  (most of the movie is subtitled, after all) and faith, but it wasn't really about any of these--instead, the focus was kept tight around the theme of family. (And of course I'm not saying that it's bad to make movies that do focus on these elements; just that a movie also can include them without being primarily about them.) That's what made this movie feel more like a glimpse at life: we are not always having crises of faith or remarking on our culture, but we are often going through serious things in our close relationships. Because relationships, especially those of the close inner family, take work.

When the family moves from California to rural Arkansas, at first it seems like Jacob is the optimistic one, while his wife seems more hesitant, you could almost say the more negative one of the two. As the film goes on, however you realize that she has this type of reaction to their new home because she knows her husband. She knows that he is so excited about this new place because he's trying to prove something to himself, not because he wants to set up a new and better life for his children. Which still isn't to say that he doesn't love his family; he's not a villain, just a fallible man, as Monica is a fallible woman. Jacob talks to his children and tells them about the work he's doing. When he notices his wife is lonely, he brings her mother to live with them and later suggests going to church so that she can have community.

While the children seem to respond well to the chance for community that church offers, the parents don't really seem to connect with anyone there. But Monica does talk with her fellow Korean coworker and she gets more Paul, deciding to see him simply as a man who has been kind to her family rather than a nutcase. So Monica who didn't want to move to this place does begin to settle--even as Jacob grows more distant, prompting her to want to leave rather than continue to build roots here with him.

Notice what the most intimate scene is between the husband and wife. When Jacob has been overworking outside to keep the plants watered and can barely move his arms, Monica helps him take his shirt off and wash his hair in the bathtub. This is love, no? Love is not just passionate, emotional, and physical feelings. Love is service. Love is humility. Love is valuing another person. It's when they realize together that they want to go back to this love for each other and their family above all other worries that the family unit seems to be mending.

All of this is without even talking about the grandma, whose relationship with the children and in particular David is central to the story. What does she point out fairly early on when she is planting the minari? Jacob is about to throw a rock at a snake, and she tells him, no, don't, then it'll run and hide--it's better if things are out in the open than hidden. Practically yes, it's less dangerous if you know where the snake is; this way you won't accidentally put your hand or foot near it and startle it and get bitten. Symbolically, though, you could carry this concept over to the family. They seem like a pretty good family. But there is something hidden in them that you discover over the course of the film. Soon-ja weeps at the prayer Monica tells to David; she sees that it brings him only fear, not strength. She pleads with Jacob not to strike David in punishment for a prank that she was the victim of. Soon-ja sees what goes in in their relationships. 

And so, symbolically once again, it is Soon-ja's gift that father and son are harvesting at the end. The minari is the provision of the grandmother. It is a bit of culture she brought with her from Korea. While Jacob and Monica were busy worrying about work and health, Soon-ja was planting seeds. She brought the focus back onto the family in cultivating a relationship with her grandson, even when he seemed oft reluctant. And so in the end, after Soon-ja inadvertently starts the fire that burns Jacob's harvest, the family is left with nothing but the legacy of the grandmother. Jacob sees that it is good. And so by seeing him harvesting the minari with David at the end, we are to understand that now it is more important to him to cultivate a relationship with his son (and the rest of his family) and to plant seeds in him than to build up grand dreams. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Valerie Confections: Toffee Assortment

So you know how it's become my big splurge to dare an online order and get Valerie Confections for Valentine's Day? Well, this year I decided it would be good to also order a second box besides the Valentine's one. Said box ended up being the eight-piece Toffee Assortment. 

A plain cream-colored ribbon adorns the box. No holiday colors of pink and red for this one because toffee is for always and for everyone. Inside, the chocolate comes in big squares of dark chocolate with little decorative flourishes. Though the squares are big, they're fairly thin, so they appear smaller once you pul them out of their wrapper nests. And yes, each one is a different flavor, so let's just go down the list, shall we?

Almond - This one's easy to spot with that single almond on its top. The toffee is nice and light, not of the variety that feels so hard it might break your teeth. While I might have preferred some of Valerie's milk chocolate with the toffee, the dark chocolate pairs fine with the almond (and with most of these flavors). Almonds have a similar texture to toffee, and also aren't so strong as to win out too much in a competition for flavor dominance. So they fade into quietness when paired with the almond and seamlessly add a dash of flavor and texture. 

Almond Fleur de Sel - The salt that sits on here is good salt that works with the others flavors. Salt is, after all, often a companion to nuts, as well as to chocolate. You can see bit of almonds within the toffee, but the almond flavor isn't strong. So the effect is more of a salted toffee chocolate with just a hint of almond. 

Ginger - As you can see, there's quite a big piece of candied ginger here. Not being one for candied ginger, I tried to keep it mixed in with the toffee and chocolate as much as I could while I chewed so as not to get it too much by itself. The toffee is paler in color than it was with the almond toffees and continues to be so for the rest. Certainly I personally would have preferred a smaller ginger topper. Yet it was still nice to try out; I've never had ginger toffee before. The bite that I had without the ginger topper had almost a sweet lemon flavor to the ginger that was at a more comfortable level of strength. That was rather nice. 

Orange - The candied orange topper, in contrast, is a tiny square. Even when you don't get the orange topper, you can still taste the orange oil. The effect is more light and floral than fruity and citrusy; given my liking of rose, I prefer the floral tone, as well as the more subtle flavor in comparison with the strong ginger. Maybe it was just this batch, but this toffee definitely seemed harder/more apt to stick in my teeth than the others. 

Mint - Instead of a candied mint leaf like you'll find on the Mint Mendiants, this toffee is decorated with gentle chocolate waves. Perhaps a mint leaf would be too much in this context. Though you can still taste the toffee, mint is definitely the prevalent flavor. Generally mint has to be paired with dark chocolate rather than milk, but with the toffee here you still get a sweet element. So this is a nice way to set up a sweet mint chocolate that also doesn't have that awkward flavor that mint milk chocolate generally has. Quite nice. 

Classic - I probably should have started here, except that I followed the order of the box and this one is right in the middle. The plain toffee allows you to take in its flavor and texture; it's thin and soft (for hard toffee) and classic in flavor. The dark chocolate is a thin layer that adds just a dash of taste. 

Pumpkin - The orange sprinkles on top I believe must be the smoked paprika I see listed in the ingredients. Pumpkin seeds are visible when you bite into the toffee. So you will find neither canned pumpkin nor pumpkin spices here; it's a completely different take. While pumpkin seeds are definitely a very recognizable taste and texture, like with the almond, they have a lot of competition from the toffee. Whether it is because there are more of them proportionally than there were almonds or simply because they have stronger flavor, the pumpkin seeds do have more influence than the almonds did. And you get a little bit of tang from the paprika. It's all very different from any toffee I've ever had before, and yet it doesn't feel "experimental" in a bad way. It's just unique. And while you can have it for autumn, this toffee doesn't need to be solely for fall, either. 

Black Sesame Seed - The helping of black sesame seeds on the surface are just the beginning: there are lots more on the inside of the toffee, as well. So you instantly get a strong sesame taste and a bit of their crunch. I hate to end on a bad note, but this was easily my least favorite toffee from the set. That's a flavor preference, though; I don't like strong sesame. 

I'm not used to so many flavors in toffee. Usually toffee is milk or dark, almonds or plain, right? I just thought I was getting another indulgence with this box, but it turns out that I got to go on interesting flavor journeys, as well. The Pumpkin and Mint were intriguing. The Orange and maybe also the Ginger were a good break from the plain toffees I've been used to. And the plainer, more classic flavors were also just nice toffee chocolates. Sometimes you can buy a box of just one flavor, but I'd definitely recommend getting the sampler first to see what you like best. It might not be the flavor you expect. And when else do you get the opportunity to try so many flavors of toffee?

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Reflecting on the Pilgrimage

I have grown too accustomed to always having about a hundred books that I own that I have not read. While I like having this home library to choose from when I want a new read, that is a bit too many, isn't it? So I've been trying to make my way through them and reduce the unread books to a lower number. I've owned The Pilgrim's Progress for years, and chose it to finally read now because I thought it would be a quick read. It was not.

Though not something to read just for fun, the book is certainly worth reading from a literary perspective because so many other writers reference it. The one of these which I was most familiar was Little Women (side note: do any of the movie versions keep that theme?); she structures her whole book around the concept of a pilgrim's journey, comparing it to the journey of young women growing into adulthood. John Bunyan's book is also interesting to look at from a faith perspective--but specifically if you are interested in the history of different churches and schools of thought.

That was what surprised me most. The First Part was published in 1678, and the 17th century was certainly a time of, um, various opinions about religion. So if I thought about my history beforehand, maybe I would have expected it more. This is also the time that precedes novels as we know them today. So while there is some similarity to a novel, it is more like reading a set of philosophical discussions. I'd definitely, then, recommend reading a copy that has footnotes and/or endnotes to give context and interpretation. The language isn't too difficult if you're used to reading olderish texts (like perhaps the King James Bible, eh?). It's not like reading Paradise Lost. Oh, and The Second Part (even though I never even knew that there was a Second Part and don't think I had ever come across any references to it) I did like more than The First Part in many ways. But that would be its own discussion.

I don't really want to give a book review; I just had to put a couple of reactions out first. What I was more interested in for now was one aspect of the book's content and structure. One of the sometimes tedious elements is the way in which characters are constantly repeating what has happened before. They meet a new character and have to tell them for the tenth time what they've been though--and then the new character also tells how they went though something similar. And then they do it again a few pages later. Like I said, it can make for tedious reading, but it sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It sounds a lot like the first five books of the Bible. There is a lot of repetition there, as well. The laws are stated, then they're stated again. The history of the Israelites' journey is given, then it is given again. Etc. There is a theme there of repetition to emphasize the importance of remembering what has happened or what God has said. So Bunyan uses repetition for a similar purpose, as well. His characters look back on what has happened to them and what they have gone through or been delivered from. They remember how they made it through various travails so that they can have hope that they will make it through future ones, as well. And when they make it through something big, they sing a few verses in recognition of what they have made it through. 

So even though it can be a little tedious to read all of the repetition, I think that is one of the things that stood out to me most from this book. It's like when people today talk of sharing their testimony: it reminds them of how they have been saved and it gives hope to others going through similar things. It is good to remember what has happened to us in the past. It is good to keep it in our remembrance how we have moved out of negative circumstances. 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Verde Valley's Heritage

For most people, perhaps, Camp Verde is just the town you pass through on the 17 on your way from Phoenix to Sedona. But if you linger, there are plenty of quiet spots, as well as destinations, worth your time. Fort Verde and Out of Africa are the top tourist attractions. There are also trails, maybe a quick peek at the salt mine, the Verde River, and one or two antique stores. 

Recent-ishly, new building development near fast food junction encountered a Native American archaeological site. So the land was donated to the Verde Valley Archaeological Center, who have set up a little path for visitors--I believe there may be plans for a museum, as well. The Native American Heritage Pathway is a quiet, small loop. Good for locals and passersby alike. If you are taking one of those long car rides and don't have time to linger but do want to get out and stretch your legs for a few minutes, this is perfect. 

There is plenty of signage along the way with info about ancient farming and housing and the like. The desert animal-shaped benches also have signposts describing each animal as well as its significance to Native Americans. 

The garden doesn't have too much going on in winter, but in season you do get to see crops growing. And they did give it a beautiful gate, did they not? A convenient picnic table wouldn't be a bad spot to stop for lunch. 

Or you can just enjoy the views. Camp Verde is a beautiful spot of land, a true green valley in the middle of mountains. Even though this little path is kind of in a nook, it still lets you see some trees, plenty of sky, and small glimpses of the surrounding mountains and cliffs. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

Endangered Species: Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate

I don't know if I've ever actually reviewed anything from Endangered Species Chocolate. If I have, it was so long ago that it was back on Chocablog. While they were one of the earlier companies to offer and promote fair trade chocolate, I don't generally think that their chocolate is good, therefore I stay away. But this Valentine's Day offering intrigued me.

My store only had two of their three Valentine's bars on hand. The Vibrant Cherries bar they did not have, but the Tart Raspberries I avoided because I'm not overly fond of raspberries and because it was dark chocolate, and I generally dislike dark chocolate more than milk chocolate if it isn't at the quality level I prefer. The bar I chose is dark chocolate, too, but it seemed different. It's a 55% dark Oat Milk + Dark Chocolate. So I was thinking it would be more of a milk/dark blend in its effect. Therefore I thought that I might like it despite my previous experience with Endangered Species.

And similar to with the Chocolove candies earlier this week, I do like the packaging. Endangered Species has definitely taken a new look than what they used to have back in the day. Instead of the animal photography, the bars now feature patterns reminiscent of posh wrapping paper. So this bar is bright pink with zebra-striped hearts scattered among plain hearts and zebra shapes. It gets at the holiday and at the Endangered Species method all in one pleasing and fairly simple look. 

The bar is plain with the company's globe logo on each square. And of course the inside of the wrapper showcases some info about the company's efforts in conservation and factoids about the Grevy's Zebra that was featured in that wrapping paper pattern. The surface of the chocolate looks pretty good and gives off the aroma of marshmallow chocolate notes and also a light hint of oats. 

Notice, though, that the color is decidedly of dark chocolate, shattering any hopes I had of more of a milk chocolate/dark chocolate blend. While the hint of marshmallow notes to the chocolate are nice, overall it has what I call the Nesquick taste. That thick, gloppy flavor that some sweet dark chocolates have. This is the flavor I try and avoid. So let's talk about the oat element instead.

The use of oats is interesting. Oat milk is super popular of late, and it makes sense. Oats are earthy and yet sweet. Their flavor is both recognizable and welcome within this chocolate. Now oat milk is just water with oats. They didn't actually add oat milk to this chocolate bar; they just added oats. But just as oats themselves are no longer present in the final liquid product of oat milk, there are no oats-as-flakes in this chocolate. However exactly they were processed into the chocolate. 

The reason I ponder this is because I'm still wishing for that milk/dark blend--and also wondering if it would be possible to make an oat milk chocolate. That is, a milk chocolate made with oats instead of dairy. I don't know enough about the chemistry of chocolate production (this is why I eat it but don't make it) to know if that's possible. But it definitely sounds more appealing to me than coconut milk chocolate. (Not that I mind just using dairy, but I know more and more people are interested in alternatives. Speaking of this, does anyone make goat milk chocolate? I'd love to try some.)

So as pertains to this bar of chocolate, I'm going to say yes to the oats. They add a nice flavor to the chocolate. But I'm going to say no to the chocolate itself. They got me back in to try out a flavor trend, but after this I think I'll go back to avoiding Endangered Species Chocolate.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Chocolove: Ruby Cacao Bar

Chocolove's Ruby Cacao Bar is not exclusive to Valentine's Day. I've seen it before, but I've avoided it because of the ruby chocolate controversy. I recommend this article from Nest & Glow if you're unfamiliar with the topic. Basically, ruby chocolate's marketing introduced it as a new kind of chocolate, a chocolate naturally colored like rubies and flavored like berries. As the article points out, though, it isn't that they discovered a new kind of cocoa bean: they just process it a little differently. The article claims, too, that there are additives that are in such minimal amounts that most countries do not require them to be listed in the ingredients--and even among those listed, you'll see citric acid, which they claim is responsible for the tanginess that, paired with the pink color, makes your mind think of berries.

That's more of a summary than I'd planned to give. But it's interesting, right? That's why I've stayed away from ruby chocolate. Now that it's no longer new, though (basically I think it failed to take off as planned), why not take a look and see what it actually is like? We'll use the excuse of Valentine's Day frivolity. 

The wrapper is properly pink, though plain enough in design to not be too frilly. What do you think of the To/From spots? They remind me of elementary school, but is that just me? Does anyone enjoy using them? Maybe I prefer them to be on the back versus up in front. 

Inside its gold foil, the bar isn't really ruby in color. It's more of a very deep and dusty pink--almost mauve. It looks and feels almost waxy, which worried me a bit. The snap is good, though, like a regular chocolate bar. Now my impression was that this was more of a white chocolate (that is, made with just cocoa butter, as opposed to milk and dark chocolate that are made with cocoa solids, as well). But I see that the ingredients list both cocoa butter and cocoa liquor. The aroma, though, is strongly of white chocolate--that sweet, sweet, butteriness. 

At first, the flavor, too, was like white chocolate. The texture is standard for a white or milk chocolate, as well--soft and leaning toward the greasy side. Another flavor quickly came up that did indeed remind me of bright raspberries. Then there was a tang more specifically like strawberries. Maybe I just have a bad palate, but I often describe chocolate in vague terms, and here I thought not vaguely of berries but specifically of raspberries and then strawberries. That didn't feel vague at all. Whether such specific flavor is the result of my mind getting tricked by the color, added flavorings, or indeed flavor from the cocoa, I don't know. I claim complete ignorance on this one. 

In reference to the citric acid, though, I have this speculation. If citric acid adds tang, when you put that tanginess together with the sweetness of a chocolate like this and a dash of cocoa flavor notes, that is very naturally going to call to mind berries. Berries are tangy and sweet, and cocoa does often have berry flavor notes. So to say that ruby chocolate is just flavored by citric acid is perhaps a simplistic way of describing what actually goes on--if indeed the citric acid is so heavily responsible for the flavor (which I'm not saying I doubt; it's just an interesting conversation). 

So yes, I agree that the marketing was overdone for ruby chocolate. Even this chocolate bar comes with the little label in the corner, "made with ruby cacao beans," even though we all know at this point that there is no such thing as ruby cacao beans. With all of the growing interest in knowing about cocoa production, wouldn't it be cooler to go ahead and tell the consumer about how the process creates this color and taste? Oh, right, then it wouldn't be "exclusive" and anyone could make it. But anyone can make milk chocolate, and that hasn't stopped its popularity. 

For myself, I'll say it's worth tasting. I'll finish off the bar. It tastes nice to me, though it isn't some rare jewel of a flavor effect. It's really sweet, so I wouldn't go for more than one or two squares at a time unless my sugar worms are feeling particularly voracious. The ruby chocolate controversy is still a controversy. But I don't think I'll avoid it anymore per se. If I happen on another product made with ruby chocolate that I'm otherwise interested in, I'll get it. And if I want to have a pink party for my niece or something, hey, I know I can where I can get pink chocolate. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Chocolove: Salted Caramel and Very Cherry Hearts

I'll be honest, I'm a little disappointed with myself. After putting up my review of a box of Valentine's chocolate from Valerie Confections last week, I thought that would be it for the holiday. Sure, Black Butterfly has some beautiful offerings this year, but I have to pass because I don't have any other reason to go to Prescott right now. When I went to the grocery store this week, however, I came away with not one but four Valentine's Day products. After I'd photographed and tasted them, I found that I had mediocre thoughts feelings towards them all.

So why, tell me why, why did I get them just so I could review them? I have other, non-seasonal chocolate waiting in queue already. But I'll include these, anyway, just to show that I, too, fall under the power of marketing. And I'll include them also to show what did appeal to me and what did not.

Although I've said I'm going to try and stay away from Chocolove's dark chocolate (as opposed to their milk chocolate) in the future, all three Chocolove products I picked up use their 55% dark chocolate. But you know what I couldn't resist, besides the seasonal quality? 

The roses. Although I also love the wildflower-looking flowers, too, roses are my first choice for a bouquet because I like to dry them and then keep them for years. Though the bags of Chocolove candy for past holidays have not scored too highly, these are great. Thick roses cover the edges of each bag, and the heart-shaped opening in the middle holds the imagery of the chocolate and its flavor elements. The Salted Caramel Hearts feature orange roses, cinnamon sticks, and caramel squares. The Very Cherry Hearts showcase red roses and ripe cherries. 

The same holds for the individual wrappers. Though they're the same design we've seen the past for other holidays, the embellishments this time are heavy enough to make the festivity work. The large amount of words fades against the pale blue background of the top half of the wrapper. The bottom half is green like grass, and the roses scroll upward from its base. Though the red roses are more classic, perhaps, I'm partial to the effect of the orange together with the green.

Inside, the simple heart shapes have Chocolove's usual logo on them. We'll start with the Caramel Hearts. They are in fact salted caramel cinnamon, not just plain caramel. But maybe it would be better if they were plain after all. The gooey, orange cream inside smells like cinnamon, which in itself is not unappealing. The cinnamon taste is strong, too, but it's instantly offset by a weird tang. Remember the salt? The tang is the salt. The salt isn't bad, as the cinnamon is not--but they do not go together. 

Salt and cinnamon and caramel together are too much. Pick one accent or another for caramel; this just tastes odd. And speaking of odd, it is strange that I find myself neutral to the 55% dark chocolate in this context, even though the heart shells are fairly thick. It's a sweet chocolate base that perhaps just fades in comparison with all of the flavors going on with the caramel. Because if salt and cinnamon weren't enough, a peak at the ingredients also reveals Ancho chiles and ginger. Granted, they mainly come together to amplify the taste of cinnamon rather than create their own flavors. But still, the point is that there is enough going on without also trying to make a salted caramel. Just because salted caramel is trendy doesn't mean it's necessary for all caramel to be salted.

Maybe after this a turn to some classic cherry chocolate will be more welcoming? Well, maybe is the key word there. The label says that this is cherry puree filling, and I can't disagree. The taste is exactly as you would expect of a cherry puree filling. Cherry and sugar inside of a sweet dark chocolate. If you like sweet dark chocolate and cherry, maybe you'll like them just fine. If you're like me, though, and you don't like sweet dark chocolate, maybe you'll be thinking in your head about who you should give them away to.

The funny thing is, I'm more inclined to give away the Very Cherry Hearts than the Salted Caramel Hearts. Even though the Caramels remind me slightly of pine cleaner, I can't taste the sweet dark chocolate in them nearly so well as in the Cherries. (And maybe also I feel better about giving away the Cherries because I know that's a personal preference, whereas I would feel bad giving away chocolate that I think tastes like pine cleaner.) I've been enjoying sweets lately, but these hearts, well, they're not the type of indulgence I like to prey upon. Good thing I bought more of Chocolove's Christmastime Hazelnut Latte Bites after they went on sale--those are more like it. 

So the truth of the matter is that I ought not to have bought either of these bags of chocolate candy. I ought to have known beforehand that they would not appeal to me. The flavors sounded nice, though, and the roses, the roses really did it. So I'm not being entirely negative: I liked the packaging. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

The Mountain and the Cactus

I was climbing over a little mountain. 

The path stretched up and around and down, then up once more and down some more, and then all back and over again. 

There were ocotillos, ripe with leaves after the rain. There were saguaros and teddy bear chollas in abundance. The rocks were mostly pale. 

The sky was bright blue above me, and far away were the Four Peaks up against the horizon. 

My feet paced over the dirt and gravel. I didn't mind the light inclines and declines, but the handful of steps that were as high as my knees did give me pause. I found myself not much taller than the children on the trail--except that I had not quite their youthful, scampering energy. So I paused for half a beat to look at the view or lean on a boulder. 

On the first part of my walk, there was a story--that is, a story not my own. Or was it? 

The slides told in words and pictures of a cactus. The prickly one who tried to be content on its own, until it realized it was lonely, and others were lonely, too, and maybe they it would be better if they could be together. 

I smiled at the cactus in the pictures, and stretched my legs toward the next peak, the next bend in the path. Do you know what might be there?

In less than two hours, I had gone there and back again. I soaked in sunlight and perspective both. 

Pinnacle Peak Trail.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Valerie Confections: Pink Box

Two years ago, I started the habit of using Valentine's Day as an excuse to buy myself a box of Valerie Confections. I rarely buy chocolate online and I'm not much into Valentine's Day, but Valerie Confections has long been a sort of secret chocolate crush of mine (as you can tell since I keep going back to them even though they don't necessarily fit my usual chocolate criteria). So I've reviewed their Grand Homme Assortment and the Grand Elle Assortment. Each year, the Valentine's offerings differ somewhat. I believe the Pink Box this year might have been new. 

As I mentioned with the masculine/feminine boxes of Grand Homme and Grand Elle, the name may give a description of the tone of a box but won't necessarily correspond to who will like each one best. Some men might prefer floral flavors, and some women might prefer dark truffles. It varies. So the Pink Box simply describes the color of the ribbon. This pink is more of a dusty rose compared to the light pink on the Grand Elle box. 

Inside is a classic Valentine's look. Broken Hearts and Caramel Hearts accompany pink Arrow Truffles and pink-topped Blushing Berry Truffles. The big difference with this box compared to the other two is that there are no larger hearts; it's just truffles in here. So if you prefer bonbons to plain chocolate, that's a big advantage. (Otherwise you can just buy a chocolate bar, right? And like I've said before, it isn't for plain chocolate that I go to Valerie's.)

Broken Hearts - Let's say that these hearts are broken wide open in outpouring love, not in heartbrokenness, shall we? And what an outpouring it is. At first glance, they look simply. They look like plain chocolate with some space left for nuts and seeds. But there are no nuts: that's black sesame seeds, toasted rice, and "crunchy pearls," which are made of flour and sugar and such. And that isn't all: everything sits on a little bed of caramel. That is, it's soft and solid like a thicker sort of caramel, but its flavor is of toffee. The black sesame seeds add a touch of Asian cuisine, and the toasted rice brings in nostalgia because of cereal associations (though its flavor is a thousand times better). The crunchy pearls are intriguing. They're soft and sweet, setting the tone decidedly in the indulgent sphere. A steady milk chocolate holds it all in. There is a deceptively simple-seeming complexity at work here.

Arrow Truffles - While these truffles do look pretty as part of the collection, I find that the printed picture style isn't my favorite. Compare, for instance, these arrows with the each-one-unique broken hearts with their fillings of seeds and rice. And also I'll make note here of the artificial colorings that are in the ingredients list--are they included specifically to make this shade of pink? Please, no artificial colorings. Anyway. While at first these do appear as simple, plain chocolate ganaches, there does seem to be a little more going on. The ingredients list vodka, chambord, and black raspberry liqueur, but I don't know which truffle they're in. The liqueur is perhaps for the Blushing Berries, but might the vodka or chambord be here? There is certainly a high level of indulgence to the ganache's flavor. The texture, as well, is incredibly soft, melting quickly into liquid in the mouth. This isn't a dark chocolate but neither does it have what I would consider the usual confection level of sweetness. Chocolate like this is why I had to start using the separate word bonbon, as well. 

Liquid Caramel Hearts - I've had these before. I seem to enjoy them more each year. The heart shape holds a good pocket of sweet vanilla-tasting caramel, while the shell is thick enough to hold it both physically and flavor-wise. The dark chocolate is once more mild. 

Blushing Berry Truffles - These I have also had before. So yes, my Valentine's box this year had two repeats and only two new flavors. But they're good repeats. A juicy raspberry flavor here pairs with that soft ganache to create a classically feminine effect. 

Overall, as the pink suggests, this is a more feminine than masculine collection. Valentine's offerings in general, though, tend to be so. But there is still dark chocolate in here, so it's a balanced femininity and not quite as frilly as the floral Grand Elle box. In fact, for only having four flavors, this set hits a lot of bases. Milk chocolate, dark chocolate, berries, caramel, crunchy texture, smooth texture, plain, flavored. At $50 for 20 truffles, that comes out to the perfectly-average price of $2.50 each. So whether you're getting these for a sweetheart or a friend or yourself, once more you'll find them a wonderfully indulgent box of chocolates.