Monday, March 29, 2021

Spring Is for Rambling

I take days off from posting regularly. Sometimes I'll take a whole week off. (And I mean for when I publish posts, because of course I often have them written ahead of time so that they're read to go on schedule. Or at least I write them not necessarily on the days I post them.) But two weeks? How did that happen? 

I haven't been on vacation or sick or anything too exciting. I mean, I did work extra this past week, but I've certainly had busier work weeks in the past. The short of it, I suppose, is that it is spring. When I'm not working, I don't want to be home and I don't want to be indoors. So if I'm trying to get out, then that means that when I'm in I have too many things that need doing that I'm not getting to. Things like vacuuming and cleaning the bathtub. Washing my dishes takes priority over writing blog posts. 

And maybe I just needed a break. Sometimes I need a break even when I have lots of plays or festivals to write about. Nowadays it can be hard to have topics. Still no live events or festivals. I don't watch a lot of movies or shows. (I guess I could write about how I've been watching an episode of Get Smart at the end of a lot of my workdays, but do I really have much to say about that?) And I don't want to write about every movie I see, or every book I read. Now that I've been reading more, I find I want to write about what I read less. I don't like writing "reviews," so I write when I have a topic, something I want to extrapolate on in a post. 

Or maybe it's because I've been doing all my deep internal thinking that is very personal and I don't usually write very personal things publicly. Yeah, that could be part of it: I have things to extrapolate on, but they're not always things to share on a blog (that is, for me--I know other people are perfectly fine with regularly sharing very personal subject matter). 

I could just ramble about what I did this evening instead of at long last writing a new post. I was looking at Chia Pets on and almost ordered one until I remembered to check if they had the complete series of Little House on the Prairie DVDs back in stock that I wanted recently, and since they didn't I did a wider Internet search and found them on and ordered them there, and then I remembered the Chia Pet and felt guilty making two Internet purchases in one evening, so I decided to save the Chia Pet for another day. And then I wandered into the kitchen wondering why I wasn't hungry for second dinner like I usually am after work, and since I wasn't I went back to my laptop to open up the blank blog post again. And here I am. That is how you waste an hour.

But you know, I did order something that I'd been planning to get. And I did write a blog post. So there is some accomplishment. A poor post it is, but perhaps this poor post will ease me back in, eh?

Friday, March 12, 2021

Alter Eco: Silk Velvet Truffles (Easter Edition)

I realize that I say Easter in the title even though this box does not in fact say Easter on it (though Alter Eco's website does call this the Easter edition). In fact, it doesn't say anything seasonal at all. Not spring, not holiday, not limited edition, nothing. But there are colorful eggs and a bunny head, and those are undeniably Easter images. I don't know how much Easter chocolate I'll be looking at this year. This might end up being the only one, or I might go crazy at Black Butterfly or maybe pick up a couple things from Zak's Chocolate--we'll see. So that's why I'm getting an early start here just in case there ends up being more.

My first instinct was that there was no need for a review. This isn't a special flavor. But I was curious. The packaging isn't really a box; it's some sort of fold-out design. From the outside, you can see a grassy inside, but what else? Would it unfold to create a pop-up booklet or springy scene? My curiosity led to the purchase, thinking perhaps it would be something worthwhile to talk about. As I picked up the first box, though, I did find one of the truffles falling out. So the design could use some reworking for next year: no one wants to risk buying a set of chocolate only to get home and find that some of it has fallen out.

Being that I'm not much interested in all the pink, cutesy bunnies and such of Easter decorations, I appreciate that the color scheme here is based on green and cream and that the design is kept simple. The box opens like a greeting card, just one simple lift to open it up. There you will find the grassy scene and six truffles sitting in little nooks. It's certainly more straightforward than I'd been expecting. The idea is that you're picking up the chocolates from the grass like you would eggs during an Easter egg hunt. 

I get the idea and it's a nice idea. But visually I'm not sure. It seems like there is too much effort not to pay attention to visuals. And yet the visuals don't offer much. It isn't a "set out on display" look. It's more of a "open up by yourself and take delight in pulling out each chocolate and eating it" look. Maybe it was designed for someone stuck at home this year and unable to see family for Easter? Or maybe it's simply meant to appeal to adults' nostalgia for Easter egg hunts. (Which reminds me, maybe I'm less than enthused because I don't really have a lot of nostalgia around Easter or egg hunts.)

The six chocolates are Alter Eco's Silk Velvet Truffles, which are made with a 39% cocoa milk chocolate. They come wrapped in light blue wrappers proclaiming that they (the wrappers) are compostable. I'm seeing this more and more often now, but the nice thing is that these are supposed to be suitable for both home and commercial composting. So there is actually a chance that more people will be able to compost them if they don't need to be taken to a very specific facility for it. 

As I've mentioned before, Alter Eco makes their truffles in a style like Lindor--except that they use better ingredients than Lindor. And of course Alter Eco also uses fair trade chocolate, which I consider especially important for Easter. You'll notice, too, that the box mentions the use of milk from grass fed cows. That's great, too: we want healthy animals for any of the animal products we're using. And of course Alter Eco was one of the earlier companies I can remember using (actually the first I think I came across) to use coconut oil in their chocolate. In the case of their truffles, it takes the place of cream so that they can have a long shelf life so that we can buy truffles in a grocery store instead of just from a chocolate shop. (And as an alternative to partially hydrogenated oils and palm oils and all of that.) 

The result is a creamy, smooth truffle. These are light and sweet in the best traditions of mild milk chocolate. There is a richness here, even though the milk chocolate is light and not at all dark. There is also zero coconut flavor; the creaminess remains a dairy creaminess, which is a positive for those of us who don't care for the flavor of coconut. Again, the purpose of using it here is not in order to make vegan chocolate, so there is still milk involved. 

Well, I satisfied my curiosity to learn more about the packaging. And I got six indulgently sweet chocolates to enjoy. So while I wouldn't say that the seasonal/holiday theme was very strong, the chocolate is nice. And I don't believe I've seen Alter Eco do much with holidays in the past, so it makes sense that they would stick to something simple to start with. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Comitatus in The Hobbit vs. TLOTR

While The Fellowship of the Ring contains a classic portrayal of the comitatus (in which a king/lord/ring giver has a group of warriors who swear fealty to him and to whom he gives gifts of treasure and such in return for their service and the feats they perform), I recently rewatched both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies and found something surprising.

I'll emphasize that I'm talking about the movies specifically, not the books. And it is beyond easy to say that The Lord of the Rings is a far superior movie trilogy to The Hobbit. But let's move on to our topic. I found while watching An Unexpected Journey that I seemed to be seeing a better representation of the comitatus than in The Fellowship of the Ring. Why would that be? 

I would be remiss not to give brief mention to the fact that I've watched TLOTR much more than The Hobbit, so sometimes there is the simple fact of familiarity: you can "get the feels" less when you've watched something many, many times versus only a couple of times. Practically, also, the audience gets to spend more time with Thorin's company than with the fellowship of the Ring. Thorin's company comes together at the beginning of the movie. They also stay together through the second movie and most of the third (though I'm primarily concerned here with the first movie). The fellowship, by contrast, doesn't form until midway through the movie. And then they break apart at the end. So you do literally have more time to observe Thorin's company. (For the sake of clarity, I'll say company to refer to The Hobbit and fellowship to refer to TLOTR.)

Then there is the question of quest. While we understand that the fellowship is setting out to destroy the Ring together and that Frodo is the ring bearer, as far as the fellowship is concerned Gandalf is more their leader than Frodo is. Aragorn and Boromir sort of vie for second in command, if you will. They have all sworn to protect Frodo on his quest, but Frodo has nothing to promise them in return and has only the hope that they will indeed lead and protect him as they promise. 

By contrast, Thorin is undoubtedly the leader of his company. By blood, he is the king of his people and his quest is to reclaim his throne and his city for his people. In return for the loyalty of his company, he promises them each a share of the treasure. This sounds, in its simplest form, more like the ring giver of the comitatus than Frodo the ring bearer does. 

And we see that loyalty at play, most particularly in the way that Balin describes his admiration of Thorin in battle and in Bilbo's personal journey towards becoming part of the company. Bilbo is afraid of this adventure in a more real world way than any of the fear that we see in The Lord of the Rings. The characters there are afraid of what is happening and afraid of failure and evil and hurt and loss and death. But Bilbo is afraid like we would be to suddenly be in a place where such things are commonplace--and that specific type of fear is emphasized very much in the movie. We see his speechless, shocked fear when he almost falls off the mountain's edge. But then at the end, we see Bilbo as the only one of the company who steps out against an unbeatable foe to protect Thorin. His loyalty overcomes his fear. He has found a leader he wants to follow. 

Both groups have a great musical score or theme. But as a viewer, I feel like the company's theme goes through more of a journey than does the fellowship's. We hear the fellowship's theme as we see the group coming up through a rocky mountain path after departing from Rivendell. It's a great moment, and I'm not denying that--but the theme is already fully formed and powerful. We're excited just because we see the fellowship. Compare Thorin's company. First we hear theme sing a somber song in Bag End; they sing of distant lands, gold, and death. We hear the theme repeated throughout, but most significantly and most strongly at that final moment when the dwarves are inspired by Bilbo's bold, brave loyalty and rush out to protect Thorin in an impossible situation. The theme comes to mean not just the group but also the personal choices they make to serve their leader even at the expense of their own safety. 

So as far as the feels go, Thorin's company gives me more of the feeling of the comitatus than does the fellowship. Like I said, The Lord of the Rings is undoubtedly the better trilogy, but the portrayal of the comitatus is one of the things that The Hobbit does quite excellently. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Jelina Chocolatier: Honey Nougat Milk Chocolate

Last year I had generally favorable comments about Jelina Chocolatier's Crunchy Pecan Caramel Milk Chocolate. I was unsure, however, how much I would seek this brand out in the future given that they don't make their own chocolate--though I did enjoy how they added flavor. I'm back again now with a fairly similar bar, the Honey Nougat Milk Chocolate. 

The simple, natural look of the cardboard box is offset this time with an almost white bee hive and a touch of yellow surrounding it. The style of the chocolate bar is the same, as well. The thick rectangles that look like they would be hiding pouches of soft nougat do not: this is simply solid chocolate with specks of crunchy nougat, which you can see peeking out through the chocolate's surface. The aroma is sweet and mild.

If you also like soft nougat, you have to take a brief moment of grief that there is none here and then move on. The crunchy nougat bits, while not soft, are not bad, nor are they as hard as toffee. They have some stickiness to their texture, too, and their taste (thanks to egg whites) also is distinct from toffee. 

While the bee hive on the front does make me wish for a stronger honey taste, there is honey flavor here. This is still regular milk chocolate sweetened with sugar, so honey is an added flavor rather than the sweetener. And it has the sugar, nougat, and vanilla to compete with. So you could eat a piece casually and not necessarily have honey come to mind. But if you're looking for it, it's very present with its unique, rich flavor. 

The milk chocolate seems to be the same as what was in the other bar. It has plenty of milk and sugar to satisfy the sweet tooth. Yet it is cooler and less buttery than candy bar milk chocolate--and certainly much nicer. It's nice enough that I wouldn't mind a little more cocoa flavor, but I also can't complain about a milk chocolate simply being a milk chocolate. 

All in all, this is a pretty straightforward bar of chocolate. It satisfies cravings for confections, but with better ingredients than one often finds in confections. 

Monday, March 1, 2021

Reactions to DBG's Water Installation

Last month, I tried out an "honest opinions" post about the Desert Botanical Garden's art installation by Waterlily Pond Studios. The trio started with Wind, and continues currently with Water; Earth will begin next month. Water is set up in the Berlin Agave Yucca Forest, which is a little offshoot of a path/lookout from the main trail. 

Being that Wind was one isolated piece, and Water was set up in this little mini path area, I was expecting, well, something more expansive this time. And sure it "spans nearly 100 feet" and uses 2,000 plants and 8,000 wooden rods. But the effect is visually simple rather than complicated. The woods are a bright yet still earthy yellow that stands out on a sunny day but doesn't look like caution tape, either. They remind me more of spaghetti than water, though. If the wooden rods represent the seasonal paths of water, why yellow and not blue or green? Yellow stand out more, I suppose, against the surrounding plants.

The 8,000 wooden rods I see. But the 2,000 plants I'm not sure. I see all of the red flowers of various types, but I wouldn't have guessed they were so many and I'm not sure how they connect to the concept of the water. Certainly, flowing water creates the opportunity for plants to grow. And good winter rain leads to an abundance of wildflowers. I am the first to admit that I don't know much about specific plant varieties, but just looking casually at these red flowers reminds me more of cultivated gardens than of Arizona wildflowers. Is that just me? 

They do offset the yellow "water" well, though, color-wise. They provide contrast and definition and also soften the edges. Otherwise the yellow rods would blend in too well with the shaggy yuccas. I do appreciate that this installation doesn't detract from the garden itself. It fits in fine. I don't find the 8,000 yellow wooden rods particularly interesting, though. They provided some opportunity to observe and reflect, but overall I preferred the Wind installation (which, by the way, has been extended for another month so you have the chance to see both at the same time). 

I am looking forward to Earth, though. It sounds more elaborate than either of the first two installations.