Saturday, October 30, 2021

Eldora Chocolate: Cameroon Bangassina Centre 70%

We have come now to the end of the selection from Eldora Chocolate. The third single origin chocolate bar we'll be taking a look at is the Cameroon Bangassina Centre 70%. Talking about trying to choose less common origins, I believe this might be my first chocolate sourced in Cameroon. At least for sure I haven't looked at any since I started putting my reviews on this blog, and that's been eight or nine years now. Granted, also, not every chocolate bar even states from where its cocoa is sourced. But Cameroon isn't one of the most common names I hear in reference to cocoa.

The chocolate has a semisweet aroma with pronounced marshmallow notes. That reminds me much of a bar I found at Trader Joe's years back. Flavor-wise, it starts off rich and dark with the marshmallow notes carrying into the flavor. After about the halfway point, things get warmer so that there is more of a flourless chocolate cake feel. Then the marshmallow notes make their way back in. In the final stages, the flavor heightens in warmth and comes to a gentle finish. 

Initially, I found that the texture felt slightly dustier and less smooth than that of the other two bars. While I still say there is some difference, it isn't enough that I would necessarily have noticed if I had only had this one. On its own, I don't think I would have called it dusty at all. 

As far as the development of flavor, this chocolate is on par with the other two. It still has flavor to dig into and a delightful chocolate embrace. I would say that it's the less nuanced or intriguingly unique of the three that I happened to choose. But it's still a solid bar of quality, small batch chocolate. It holds its own.

My only regret is that Eldora is so close yet so far away. New Mexico is just one state over, but that's just far enough away that I'm not there more than once a year and not always that often. Now I know, though, that a stop in or drive through Albuquerque necessitates some chocolate refueling. 

Friday, October 29, 2021

Eldora Chocolate: Belize Maya Mountain 70%

Coming to the second of the three single origin chocolate bars from Eldora Chocolate, we have the Belize Maya Mountain 70%. I mentioned that I was trying to get less common origins. While Belize I would consider less common, I did review the Belize bar from Zak's Chocolate last year (click here for that post) and named it one of my favorites from them. As I glance back at my comments there, I do see some similar descriptions to what I came up with for this one. 

We have the same simple packaging as before. The handwritten batch number and best by date add to the handmade, small batch appeal. This is the way chocolate is meant to be made: in a personal way. The chocolate's aroma this time around was deeper and more like cocoa nibs. In fact, it was a deeper and stronger scent than I would have expected from the somewhat lower cocoa content of 70%, as compared to say an 85%. 

Yet the flavor begins with what I called a blue sweetness. There was almost perhaps a hint of floral notes within the foggy deepness. After the halfway point, I found the slightest hint of smokiness. Then the chocolate mellowed out while still staying on the dark side. That is, it's dark and edgy but still safe--that is, it doesn't come out with surprising flavors bursting forth. It finishes with a warm last kiss of chocolate.

This chocolate is different but in a subtle way. On one hand, it feels like straightforward chocolate flavor, which is a gentle tone. Yet on the other, it has that edgy depth. And that combination of those two traits is what makes it unique. Again, this is similar to my comments about the Zak's Belize bar, except that I was focusing on metaphors there whereas here I did manage to guess at some flavor notes. I wonder what a side by side of the two would be like. I more commonly have the chance to compare different cocoa origins from the same company than I do the same cocoa origin from different companies. 

This particular bar I chose not just because I haven't had a lot of Belize chocolate but also because I saw that it had won bronze at the International Chocolate Awards. Having now tried the chocolate, I can see why. Once more, Eldora has shown that they can bring about the right texture in a chocolate and also know how to present a full flavor profile to showcase the individuality of each cocoa origin. This particular bar will satisfy if you're looking for a unique expression of flavor notes. 

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Eldora Chocolate: Mexico Chiapas 70%

So far, we've taken a look at Eldora Chocolate's storefront, their Goat Milk Dark Chocolate, and their body care products. Now it's time for the three single origin chocolate 70% bars I also picked up. While there were quite a few to choose from, I tried to get the less common origins or even ones I had never had before. The first would be the Mexico Chiapas 2018. I could be wrong, but I don't believe I've ever had cocoa sourced from Mexico before. 

In the store, they bundled up the three bars I chose and tied them off with a black cord. The look of the packaging is simple and handmade. Clear sleeves are sealed with a large white sticker label. Each chocolate bar is a fairly small square at only one ounce, which means that the $4 price tag is average value for the amount but also easier on the eye than paying $8 or $10 for a larger bar. That makes it easier to try more varieties, or to simply spend less. And I'm always all for making high quality chocolate in smaller amounts rather than more chocolate in lower quality.

Because the chocolate is a smaller square, the Eldora logo covers one side of the bar. It takes on the look of a trading stamp this way, adding to both the vintage and handmade vibes. There are a couple of small air bubbles in the design, but just in a way to show that it's small batch. A simple semisweet aroma accompanies a good snap. 

The chocolate begins with a begins with a mellow, blue flavor like a sweeter, softer version of nibs. As the chocolate melts, the flavor warms and deepens. There is a hint of tanginess after the halfway point, and then it mellows into a rich yet still mild chocolatiness. The finish is perhaps dried fruit, and the aftertaste of brownies. Texture-wise, everything is smooth and solid with neither dustiness nor a plastic feel.

Eldora doesn't provide flavor notes on this one--they just mention that chocolate from this region is some of the most distinctive in the world. I will agree with that. This chocolate is great. There is a classic chocolate feel to its taste and yet the flavors are also nuanced. That pairing means that it will please a range of palates. This chocolate bar shows me that Eldora knows how to handle cocoa and how to coax out a complete flavor profile. As someone who has had plenty of gourmet chocolate over the years, I'm impressed. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Eldora Chocolate: Chocolate Body Care

During my visit to Eldora Chocolate in Albuquerque this summer, I was enticed by all of the chocolate body care products in the shop. While such products aren't unheard of, it is certainly less common to find chocolate body care products that are also organic and free of artificial colors and scents. Artificial chocolate is a horrendous aroma/flavor. So I took advantage of the situation and got two soaps, a lip balm, and a small body butter. Maybe I should instead have chosen more chocolate bars, but this was the choice I made and I'm not unhappy about it.

The body care products are a local collaboration with Tayori. (Side note while talking about artificial colors: while browsing their website, I see some colorful soaps that say they contain "skin safe colorants," so I'm not sure what that means--but either way, the chocolate products don't have those bright colors.) We'll start with the soaps. The first is the plainer one, a simple rectangle marked Organic Lavender Lemon Chocolate Soap. The two bases are olive oil and coconut oil, which is a major plus if like me you try and avoid palm oil (which most people use as a soap base). Lavender and lemon essential oils give aroma, though the scent isn't strong. And yes, in addition to the Eldora cocoa, there is Lavender Lemon Chocolate from Eldora in the soap itself. The perhaps greatest part is that while the soap looks like it contains pieces of lavender, that's an illusion. Rather, there are specks of different-colored soap that give the look of lavender without leaving a floral mess in your sink or shower. It's a good soap.

I'm not sure that photos can adequately portray how beautiful the second soap looked with its buddies in the store. They gleamed like jewels, and my feminine heart had to have one. The Chocolate Salt Heart Soap is brown with golden paint and a sort of flower on top. It's beautiful to display. In use, though, I do have some criticism. The "paint" on the surface of the heart does wash off with a good amount of color. So the first time you use the soap, there will be brown. (There was to a minor degree with the first soap throughout, too.) Not a big deal, but a bit strange. 

And then there is the texture. I didn't pay much attention to the fact that this is a "salt" heart. But yes, there are chucks of Himalayan salt in the soap. That's great if you want to scrub your feet and it's okay if you use it to wash your hands and are gentle in the handing. But if you want to use this as a body soap, you'll probably need to rub the soap bar onto a washcloth and then use that. Otherwise the salt chunks will scratch against your skin. Himalayan salt is great for your skin, so I don't mind it being in here. But it does make the soap a little more difficult to use. It also means that the beautiful heart looks like a chunk of heart-shaped cement after you've started using it. So it won't look as pretty in a bathroom soap dish while in use as it did when it was just decorative.

Next we have the Organic Unscented Chocolate Lip Balm. Notice this again. These products aren't about fake chocolate scents. We're not ten years old shopping at Bath & Body Works for lip gloss. There is no chocolate scent/flavor, but there is chocolate. Once again, it's dark chocolate as well as cocoa butter, since cocoa butter in itself isn't at all unusual for a natural or organic lip balm. Also in here are shea butter, beeswax, coconut oil, and hemp oil. Pretty standard ingredients. 

The lip balm does have a light to medium brown color. But it isn't tinted. So I'm not positive on whether or not it's going to be completely clear and colorless for everyone. I'm light but not very fair; my eyes are dark enough brown as to be almost black. So while I can say that this lip balm doesn't add any brown color on my skin, I can't say whether or not that would be the case for someone who is very fair. When I test it out on the inside of my wrist or on my palm, I don't see any color. So I'm going to go with that as most likely, but you be the judge.

Because of the most likely lack of color, this can be a unisex lip balm, which is nice. While it isn't chocolate-scented, it does of course have a light aroma from all of the rich ingredients. And because of them, it's also very moisturizing. I in fact find that I prefer this lip balm to a similars sort of balm that I regularly use. 

Last we have an item that intrigued me when I was browsing Eldora's website before even going into the store. This is the Organic Chocolate Lavender Body Butter, which I got in the small size just to try it out. It's like a mini jelly jar with the same plain labeling we've been seeing throughout. Ingredients include shea butter, beeswax, coconut oil, olive oil, MCT oil (which I had to look up and is apparently obtained either from coconut or palm kernel oil), castor oil, and of course both cocoa butter and dark chocolate. 

The butter is pale, pale brown like liquid foundation. It smells lovely like lavender--much more so than the soap did. While I don't see this confirmed, given that Eldora uses Los Poblanos lavender in their chocolate, I would expect for the same in these products. I also expect it to be the case given what I've said about the fresh, strong quality of Los Poblanos lavender; I get that same sense from this body butter. Rub a little on your skin and it's like taking a breath of clear air. It you want something calming and clarifying, good lavender will do it. 

Texture-wise, this is a soft and smooth butter. I normally use raw shea butter as lotion/moisturizer/etc., and this is a much softer version of that given the additional oils and the beeswax. So it has that rich, luxury feel in texture that you don't always get from a single ingredient product like solo shea butter. Other than the pale brown color, I don't get any sense of chocolate from it. But that's okay: just knowing there's chocolate in here is fun, and cocoa butter is good for your skin. Aroma-wise, it's the lavender that rules the day for this one. How you use a product like this will vary for you: you can use it as body lotion, you can use it as hand cream, you can use it as a facial moisturizer. Like with the lip balm, there is no color in it once you put it on your skin. 

Overall, I'm pleased with these products. I appreciate the natural ingredients paired with the fun element of chocolate. The quality is high, as are the aesthetics. All of them would make great gifts, especially the body butter. I like that one so much that I'm rationing it and probably need to force myself to just use it up. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Step in Time

On the edge of Downtown Phoenix is a place that rightfully calls itself "Arizona's most unique live entertainment venue." It's called The Duce, and it's a warehouse speakeasy, a vintage-style eatery, and a true step back in time. Well, that last part is specifically in regards to their Wednesday night swing dancing, which is our focus for today.

You know when you watch videos of the Star Wars droid-builders? That's what it felt like stepping into this space; it was like finding a niche community brought into real life. One might go swing dancing just for the fun of getting out and being active and being around people, but generally this specific type of dance attracts those with a flair for the vintage. Especially given the venue's atmosphere, the evening is an escape from the twenty-first century. There is classiness (from the modern perspective) in swing dancing, and yet there is also this loose, rebellious type of freedom about it (which you can see when you look at what people thought about it a century ago when it was new). 

Whether you come semi-dressed-up or in plain clothes, with a vintage flourish or without, you'll fit into the space. Deciding on what shoes to wear, I almost forgot that I already own the perfect pair. My Rockport old lady comfort shoes (which you can apparently still buy, even though I've had them for years) fit in perfectly with that 1930's vibe--and being comfort shoes, they are, well, comfortable. Comfort's a must; lace-ups look just as good with a dress as anything else. Being, though, that I like going vintage, I was glad to know that I fit in just as I was. (Technically speaking, of course, the 19th century is more my era, so was going into the 20th century stepping backwards or forwards in time?)

If you go, the first part of the evening is the lesson. That's great of course if you've never been swing dancing before--though it's still a lot to pick up your first time. They rotate partners, so it really doesn't matter if you go with a partner or not. Dancing with different people ends up being a chance to learn something different with each person. You realize more about how you move when it's placed in contrast to different people. Even after the lesson, most people were dancing with multiple people throughout the night. 

That in itself is quite a classy, old world vibe. During the lesson, they gave a joking-toned admonition to let them know if anyone was creepy and they'll kick them out. In contrast to being a place where you have to watch your back, it's a safe space. It's like you really have gone back nearly a century to a time in which basic manners and respect are the norm. You can step on and off the dance floor with people you've just met and it feels natural. And might I add, too, that it's nice to (as a female) feel feminine with partners leading you in different steps. (Well, I guess it wasn't all traditional roles--I also danced with a fellow lady at one point, which was fun, too.)

I've been contemplating that concept of leading and following to make my obligatory metaphor. One of the things I learned (as someone who really hasn't danced at all) was that you have to maintain your frame (which, what do you know, also means your arms and not just your back/shoulders) in order for your partner to be able to lead you. That is, if you keep losing frame in your arms, it's harder for them to indicate which way they want you to go. So you have to be solid in yourself in order to be led. Are you sensing the metaphor yet?

It would seem like too much contrast. You might ask, isn't following the passive role, whereas leading is the active role? But the truth is passivity doesn't get you anywhere, even if someone's trying to lead you. And allowing yourself to be led isn't being passive; it's partnership. So in order to be part of a partnership, each person has to be active and whole. And in order to be active in one's own life, one must be stable and poised in order to react to whatever may come. (I could also keep the metaphor going to describe what it means to submit to God's leadership in life, but maybe that's enough rambling for now.)

So there we have it. Step into new spaces and you never know what you might find. Maybe it'll be a swinging, vintage speakeasy.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Shifting Shows

My first regular concert was Chris Tomlin in the early 2000's. While I've been seeing a lot of live shows in the past few years, concerts have remained more rare for me. It's seemed easier to go see a play or opera than a concert--the ticket-buying is often easier and the general experience seems to work better with solo attendance, which is usually what I've been doing. 

Now that live shows have started up again, after the break I'm readjusting what sort of shows I go see. The time for solo attendance may be coming to a close. The C.S. Lewis play was a great reentry in. Quickly following that was an invite to see Jeremy Camp. Whether or not I've been much of a concert-goer, that was a pretty easy yes. Jeremy Camp has long been one of the top Christian artists. And do you know what? Attending this concert with a group may very well have been a better use of $30 than attending an opera solo.

Maybe concerts don't give me as much blogging content as another type of show might. Instead, though, I felt included and comfortable in my being and part of the audience. Instead of just looking at something aesthetically, I was looking philosophically. I was glad to be part of this space in which people were gathering to give God the glory. (Not to say that I suddenly have anything against enjoying aesthetics or plays or operas--I'm just describing how the experience was different.)

Lots of things have been shifting for me lately. And if the type of shows I go see ends up shifting, too, well, that may be a good thing.

Monday, October 11, 2021

C.S. Lewis on Stage

The journey into Heaven must, by necessity, mean ridding away every trace of Hell. C.S. Lewis's The Great Divorce describes a bus ride from Hell into Heaven; the narrator observes various other characters and what they are unwilling (or occasionally willing) to shed or leave behind in order to proceed into Heaven. The Fellowship for Performing Arts was in town with their production based on the book (previously they have also done The Screwtape Letters, though I didn't catch that one--and they have the upcoming film The Most Reluctant Convert fast approaching). This take was adapted by Max McLean and directed by Christa Scott-Reed.

The excellence of the production is shown by the fact that it would seem to be, based on the book, to be a tricky adaptation to make, and yet watching the production itself felt so seamless and fluid. Four actors took on all of the roles, set dressing was mainly limited to their four suitcases, and a large screen on the back of the stage that allowed the transition through the, um, limitless spaces. So there was a stripped down quality to it all and yet great richness in what was portrayed. This was a case of positive use of a screen; it allowed the audience to see the many landscapes described in a way that set dressing could not have done. And yet it didn't detract from the simplicity of a plain set, and the plain set allows for focus on the dialogue.

This story is, after all, mainly dialogue. At 90 minutes, it was short enough to keep attention spans from wandering. The interactions between the characters also keep rolling along at such a pace that each mini scene only has to hold your attention for so long before it is over and replaced by another. So there were no pacing issues; never did I feel like I was getting bogged down or like the pace was too slow. Instead, the interactions made quick work of describing the core features of each character and his/her struggle or vice. 

Like I said with the book, it's easy to see oneself most strongly in a particular character. I'm not sure if this was because of the adaptation or simply from seeing it on stage instead of on the page, but I also felt particularly like I was seeing aspects of society and of the church in the different characters. Rather than this being accusatory (that is, for us to see others as "the problem" rather than ourselves), it helps with compassion. C.S. Lewis in general addresses people's real concerns and questions. So with this sort of portrayal, you have a chance to get into someone's perspective and see what holds them back or what they don't quite understand about your perspective that leads them to not agree with you. 

Even though there is heavy content in this story, the play ended up being ultimately uplifting. There is the consciousness of the danger of holding ourselves back--but there is also hope in the realization of that departure out of all things related to Hell and the entrance into Heaven. There is great joy in the hope of one day leaving pain and the shadow of death behind. So you could say that this play helped put things in perspective. 

Monday, October 4, 2021

What He Created

When it was coming up on my birthday a little while back, I saw that was having a big end of summer sale. So I made a big order as a sort of birthday present to myself. It's a big deal since I don't normally do a lot of online ordering--but because I don't, I like to go big when I do. So if you've been glancing at my Goodreads widget lately, you've probably mainly been seeing books from this haul. 

I won't be talking about all of them, but I have to share the first one I read. Breaking Free from Body Shame: Dare to Reclaim What God Has Named Good by Jess Connolly was so good that, as I was reading it, I wanted to recommend it to everyone. There are a lot of different ways that you might feel about your body, or about bodies in general. So some people might really feel like they need a book with this title and others not so much. But I think it's an equally good read for whichever perspective you're coming from. 

The gist of her thesis is that God created our physical bodies and called them good, and therefore they are good and we don't need to view them as lacking. It's a simple statement, but you can spend a lot of time unpacking how your daily thoughts and attitudes do or do not come into alignment with this concept. It might be criticism towards one's own body or towards other people's. 

Jess briefly mentions how the body positivity movement really helped her to feel more comfortable with her body. The interesting thing about this is that it's had the opposite effect on me. As someone who is both short and naturally thin, I've always had people feel free to observe to me that I'm thin/skinny as if it is something wrong. I see stores advertising having sizes for everybody (all the way up to such and such plus sizes) and yet I pick up their smallest size and see that it is too big for me. So I end up feeling like I am not accepted and shouldn't accept myself. We all have different experiences and different bodies, and we should not be criticizing other people's bodies nor our own. (This is of course different from taking care of one's body so as to take care of what God has given us.) I've been on a journey to not feel like there is something wrong with the way I am physically--which is different, though with overlap, from my other journey of getting my health in balance. 

Jess intentionally kept this book, as she puts it, sort of surface level. Mostly when people talk about body issues, they go in deep on eating disorders or weight or abuse. What she says isn't generally so specific, and therefore it's applicable to everyone, whether someone struggling with an eating disorder or someone feeling shame after abuse or someone criticizing her own stomach (or someone else's). She kind of opens up your eyes to all of the little things that we do/say/think that contribute to feeling like our bodies are lacking. 

And her emphasis on the physical body being a creation of God reminds me a bit of C.S. Lewis. He talks in some of his writings and also portrays in Narnia and his other fiction that God created the physical world. The Christian perspective is so much about reminding ourselves of spiritual truths--but it isn't meant to be in a way that neglects the physical world that we currently live in and that God created. Yes, we look forward to a day when we don't have bodies that get tired and sick, but isn't it also amazing what these bodies can do? And as Jess points out, they are the vessels that we are currently in so that we can experience and live life. They are what allow us to observe all the different senses, and they are what allow us to serve others and to experience God. "Your King loves your body and gave His life so that you might experience Him in your body here and now and see your body restored in eternity" (39). It's about God's glory, not ours. This book is very freeing and allows you to accept a comfort with yourself and who you are.