Friday, May 13, 2022

Afternoon Tea at the Phoenician

I have over the years had the pleasure of afternoon tea at the Crown and Crumpet in San Francisco, the English Rose in Carefree, and Los Poblanos in Albuquerque. While the other two were fun, the La Quinta Afternoon Tea at Los Poblanos was the stellar standout not only in terms of afternoon tea but also for dining in general. It's a true culinary experience. How, then, would the infamous Afternoon Tea at the Phoenician compare to these past three teas? 

The Phoenician is one of those resorts well known to locals but not necessarily because everyone has been there. Their Afternoon Tea makes for a big draw to bring us in--even then, though, because it's a special occasion indulgence, not everyone has done it. It is a nice excuse to go admire the Phoenician, which is a lovely resort. Simply getting the chance to dress up and go listen to the live piano music is welcome.

Though this is first and foremost a classy, high end tea, the set-up leans towards the lounging style. After all, taking a moment to rest and relax and enjoy one's self is the very essence of what afternoon tea is about. So the chairs at your table might be more what you would tend to find in a sitting room than a restaurant. And the wide view out the glass windows is a familiar sight, for locals, from a less familiar angle.

While they bring out a menu in the beginning so that you can choose your tea (I just stayed with Darjeeling, since I miss it now that I'm not drinking black tea anymore), they do take these away before serving you. It would be nice to have them to refer back to while eating so as to know what's what: it's hard to remember everything when there are six sandwiches and eight desserts in addition to the two scones. They had the Mother's Day menu going while I was there. This is a similar, slight adjustment to the regular menu; they also do this for Christmas. But along with the higher price, the Mother's Day tea also included a printed photo for each person that they took when we came in. That was a nice touch.

The aesthetic of the Phoenician is more modern. Yet the flower arrangement on the table had that perfectly imperfect and feminine vibe. As compared to receiving a tier of plates with all the courses, they brought each one individually. This does help to avoid unwieldy tiers and cramped table spaces. They brought out the sandwiches first, all arranged on one plate per person. While they're cut up nice and cute, I can't say that any of them particularly stood out to me. Most of them all tasted pretty much the same, maybe because the bread was so similar. 

We received the scones next, one buttermilk and one cranberry. The cream and lemon curd are what bring life to scones. I didn't care for the cranberries. 

The desserts came last. They're cute and fun looking, right? I enjoyed looking at them before beginning to eat. But there is a definite contrast between the posh, classy look of the Phoenician and the cutesy, colorful look of the desserts. Granted, the Mother's Day desserts are slightly different from the usual ones. But it's just an observation. 

That being said, I did enjoy them. I also plucked the little ladybug off of the chocolate strawberry and put it into the "flower garden" dessert. Just for fun. The flower garden was the caramel milk chocolate tart, and I did enjoy that one because I'm a fan of caramel. Otherwise I'd say the best desserts were the lemon meringue profiterole (maybe because I never have those), the cherry hibiscus shortbread (because fresh shortbread is a pleasure), and the fruit tartlet (because berries and cream are classic). The pink velvet cheesecake was pleasant, too, like a soft cake with the cheesecake element acting like a cream cheese frosting. The chocolate cake was dry and not of much interest.

It's impossible for me to not be a harsh critic after that tea at Los Poblanos; nothing will ever compare to that. And given that the Mother's Day tea at the Phoenician was double the price of the one at Los Poblanos (normally it's only a 50% increase, but even that is significant), I do wish the foods matched the price. They give you quite a few, yes, but they're small, so it isn't much more than average for an afternoon tea. If you're looking for a culinary experience, this tea might not quite do it. But that isn't to say that the experience isn't worth it.

It's the whole package deal of going and enjoying one's self and sitting with comfortable company in a beautiful setting with excellent service that makes Afternoon Tea at the Phoenician special and a wonderful way to celebrate an occasion. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Ritual Chocolate: Juniper Lavender Chocolate

The first time I came across Ritual Chocolate, I regretted that I probably wouldn't be getting anymore of their products. Fast forward almost three years and a new shop, Regency Modern, in Old Town Scottsdale has a full supply of Ritual Chocolate bars. Enter much jubilation: normally I don't have access to a lot of artisan chocolate companies, so I end up being limited to the stray one found here or there, not to a full line within arm's reach whenever I want more.

The design is beautiful and comes in the same style as before except with the addition of simple geometric shapes and illustrations. This is the Juniper Lavender Chocolate, so we see mini butterflies hovering around the lavender. The monochromatic, purple design keeps it classy versus chaotic. 

While the card box is in the same style as before, this time there is more info on the inside leaves about the chocolate process and the flavor notes. There is even a space to write down tasting notes. The light gloss to the paper probably isn't well-suited for writing: a pencil won't make enough of an imprint and most pens will smear. But I guess even if you don't use the space, it's meant to get you thinking.

Darker in color than it looks in the picture, the surface of the chocolate has no visible inclusions on either the front or back. Aroma-wise, it could be that I'm so immune to lavender after using so many lavender products and consuming it in so many forms, but I only pick up a semisweet dark chocolate scent. Breaking the chocolate reveals a good snap and consistency. 

Initially, I get an earthy sort of flavor, then the lavender comes in, and then more of the dark chocolate. Past the halfway point, the chocolate gets sweeter somehow--but not in the sense of sugar sweetness. It's more of a floral sweetness. The lavender becomes the flavor of lavender candy rather than the strong, peppery sort of lavender taste that you might come across elsewhere. It's still a fresh sort of lavender, though. 

Again, having had a lot of lavender products, I would describe this one as not being super strong on the lavender. (And I don't mind it being very strong.) The inclusion of the juniper berries is what makes it quite unique. The juniper does indeed call to mind the mountains; it isn't like a breath of pine, but rather something softer. The poetic description that the chocolate's finish "lingers on the tongue and conjures up the scent of a high mountain meadow" is not an exaggeration. It's quite literal. The flavor inclusions here do take you on a journey, for which the chocolate provides a worthy base and vehicle. My high expectations are not disappointed.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Further Up & Further In

Last fall, I had my first two introductions to The Fellowship for Performing Arts, first with their live play of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis and then with the film version of C.S. Lewis: The Most Reluctant Convert. While I did enjoy both, the film had two main critiques from me. I find both of those addressed in their newest play, C.S. Lewis on Stage: Further Up and Further In, which had its first live performance in Phoenix this past weekend (and will probably be back in town once they have the finalized version ready). 

I wished, going in, that I knew more what to expect. C.S. Lewis has so many books, and yet here was a play that wasn't based on a specific of his writings. All I knew was that it was a kind of sequel to The Most Reluctant Convert. Whereas that story centered around Lewis's journey toward belief in God, this one was meant to show how he became such a prominent voice in Christian writing and speaking. It turned out that this was less biographical than the first part of the story; this time around we heard certain beats of what was happening in Lewis's life simply in terms of what he was writing or thinking or working on at the time. Like, for instance, hearing about the war in order to know the context in which he was giving his radio talks. 

I in fact found this a benefit. Instead of being distracted by whether we're supposed to be watching action unfold or hearing narration go on, the audience knew that we were simply watching a monologue about philosophical, spiritual, and religious concepts. When watching the film, I'd mentioned that the monologue style probably worked better in a live play, and yes that was indeed the case. While we are still seeing Lewis the scholar approaching various deep discussions, Max McLean in person is able to take you through these intellectual journeys in an engaging way. He keeps to the scholarly tone of voice that Lewis has in the surviving radio dialogue, while also somehow subtly giving his dialogue more dramatic beats. 

And the digital screen that they used at the back of the stage was wonderful in aiding those beats. I had thought that they made good use of a screen with The Great Divorce, but this took it a step further (in a different way, of course, for a very different type of production). The set was a sparse portrayal of Lewis's office; it more gives the actor a place to move around in. So it was the screen that matched the content of each sub-topic he brings up. We got to see either context (like the war) or a visual portrayal of emotion, if you will. The galaxies, or the tree growing beside living water. There are no words to express to you what I felt when I saw that tree. While there are plenty of trees in Lewis's writing and in the Bible, that specific tree isn't described in that specific way anywhere that I know of. And yet I've seen that tree before in my mind, and so when I saw it on the screen it was perfect visual for the concepts that the monologue was approaching.

Besides the live play versus film format, the other comment I'd had after watching The Most Reluctant Convert was that they hadn't emphasized Lewis's focus on the concept of joy as much as I'd expected. They did in this play, though. I vastly appreciate that because, though I've used different words perhaps to describe it, I know exactly what Lewis means when he talks about joy. I love engaging with that concept. While the film was largely based on Surprised by Joy, which focuses on joy so much that it's part of its title, the truth is that FPA in these two pieces combines various of Lewis's writings. So there will be something from this book here, from that talk there, from this letter over there, from this fictional book next. If The Most Reluctant Convert was meant to be Lewis's introduction into accepting the existence of God, Further Up and Further In gets into the meat of Lewis's contributions to Christian dialogue. Besides joy, another notable topic that came up was his assessment that Jesus had to be either lying, mad, or telling the truth. I do wish we could, as a society, get back into more dialogue like this. Lewis convinced a lot of people that Christianity was true because he answered the questions he himself had had.

This brings me me to one of my lingering questions about FPA. I'm really enjoying the way in which they provide me with engaging, intellectual Christian content. Contemporary Christian content doesn't always have enough meat on its bones to interest me; I like to go deep. But FPA also states that they way to reach a wide audience, and isn't deep intellectual content more niche? C.S. Lewis talked about presenting ideas for the person who would like to believe in Christianity but "finds his intellect getting in the way" (which might not be the exact quote), and yet he was also someone who could speak to the masses and present deep concepts in a stripped down, simple, easy-to-understand way. So is FPA striving for a similar balance? It's a high goal. And I suppose all three shows I've gone to see (the two plays and the film) have all been about sold out, so the audience is responding. 

I almost skipped this one, and I'm so glad I didn't. I had one of those artistic response moments in which I was elevated out of myself. I came back into my skin refreshed. Just like with The Great Divorce, I felt my perspective renewed, and boy do I need that constantly renewed. 

Medea in LA

I have been neglectful of late of blogging. Trust some good plays, however, to bring me back in. I saw two last week--each was quite different, yet both were stunning in their own way. The first was Southwest Shakespeare's Mojada: a Medea in Los Angeles, directed by Micah Espinosa and performed once again at the wonderfully small venue at Taliesin West. 

As you can tell from the title, the play is based on the Greek play Medea but it is set instead in LA. The transition is about as flawless as can be, which highlights the universality of the themes in the original play. Just because the story was set in a specific time and place with specific politics and social structures does not mean that all of those don't have similar reflections at any point in history. People are still people no matter the year. And perhaps Greek plays are especially good for adapting to new settings. Translations are already so different from the original language that translators often already modernize the language. (I remember, for instance, reading Lysistrata and seeing the explanation that a certain group of characters had been given Southern accents in the translation in order to portray to modern readers the effect of their different accents within the play.) So why not take things a step further?

Structurally, they did also move some of the action onto the stage and change a little of the timing. Greek plays are all about things taking place off stage. Medea is largely composed of characters talking about what has happened or what will happen. So with this play, they kept the monologue or long dialogue style but also spread the action around more. And they kept the ending secret so that it comes more as a shock to views who might not know the Greek play's plot. 

That difference in how they approached "the big thing that happens at the end" is reflective of what is perhaps the biggest change in this adaptation. Greek Medea is a woman who has been wronged and expresses great emotion over how she has been treated; she's a woman who finds ultimate vengeance against her wrongdoers. Modern Medea likewise has been wronged, but she is portrayed a little differently. She starts off more passive and then becomes enraged, like she has finally passed her breaking point and has lost her mind to pain so that all she can do is lash out. So what we end up seeing is Medea's trauma. Her vengeance takes on a greater emphasis on pain and tragedy. What has happened to Medea is tragedy--and what she does as a result of this tragedy is likewise tragedy. 

I can't mention this production without also taking a moment to appreciate Greta Skelly's moving performance as Tita, the nurse/maid. Her character combines various roles from the Greek play including the Chorus. So while Medea is the title character, Tita is the audience's guide both to the facts of what is happening and to the emotions we are meant to feel. She weeps for the tragedy that happens--but in her desire to not see injustice, she cannot support Medea's final actions. So when we see what trauma can cause a person to do, we don't dwell on our delight to see wrongdoers get their just deserts. Rather, we simply weep that tragedy exists. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Sonnets on Stage

Southwest Shakespeare Company has a way with combining the new and the old, the familiar and the fresh. They'll perform Shakespeare plays and they'll perform contemporary plays. They'll set the Shakespeare plays in their original settings, or in a more recent time period. It keeps things fluid. Their latest production pushes the fluidity even more.

"Shall I Compare Thee: The Sonnets," directed by Mary Coleman Way and Dathan B. Williams (who was also the playwright), combines various of Shakespeare's sonnets into a play. It's one of the cases in which you have very little idea going in about what you're going to see on stage. They said there would be music and dance, but I still had a lot of questions. I was imagining a small cast and more of a monologue style. 

What they came up with much more cohesive than what I was imagining. The cast included eight actors and three musicians. Not only was this a larger group than I'd expected, but it's also a large group for the small venue at Taliesin West. That theatre gives the opportunity to feel fully enveloped by the stage. There was a light framework of Shakespeare's biography to give a kind of context to each sonnet. So the actors switch in and out of speaking directly to the audience (when explaining various factoids) and performing the different roles within each sonnet. 

Some actors played Shakespeare himself at various ages: youth, adulthood, and maturity. They all played either the speakers or subjects of the sonnets. So the play was a constantly-changing kaleidoscope of sound and visuals and emotional beats. But it didn't feel convoluted. In fact, it was quite a delight. There was very little pressure in the watching as compared with a usual Shakespeare play. Normally, if it's a play you're not familiar with, you have to glance at plot or characters beforehand so that you'll be able to keep up with what's happening when you watch. Here, though, the "action" was simple. And if a particular few lines eluded you, no worries: that sonnet will be over soon and you'll move on to the next. 

Their musical explanation of a sonnet's construction deserves the limelight. It would be the delight of high school English students eager for a few minutes of a YouTube video to lighten the load of learning. In fact, the whole play had that sense of delight. Maybe it's because the actors were constantly moving in and out of breaking the fourth wall that there was greater awareness of their love of their craft. That plus the experimental nature of this play showcased the fun and whimsy of hamming it up to elevate dialogue and sequences. 

And we hit the more serious emotions, too, all the way from the opening sequence speaking of death to the closing "Shall I Compare Thee?" We walked away reminded of what a difference it makes to produce and consume art. "So long lives this and this gives life to thee." Art in the hands of performers with an audience becomes a tangible, living thing that outlasts the ages. It's quite a glorious thing to behold. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Stone Grindz: Almond Butter & Black Lava Salt

Too much time has passed since I covered anything from Stone Grindz, and the local Scottsdale company has certainly kept busy during that time. Today we're looking at their Almond Butter & Black Lava Salt 80% Dark Chocolate bar. This one came in a simple clear sleeve that showcases the alpacas on the squares. What could be cuter than eighteen almond butter alpacas? 

The chocolate has a rich semisweet aroma. Although it is a tad darker than it appears in the pictures, the chocolate is fairly light for having an 80% cocoa content. We'll find out why soon. I also noticed that the texture when I broke off a square seemed soft, which I first attributed to the warmer spring weather (even though I suppose it's still cool indoors). You can see I hadn't thought too much about how the almond butter and black lava salt would manifest. Because the next thing to notice is that there are no visible almonds nor salt crystals.

But the label says almond butter not almond slivers, you say? Well, often there is some room for interpretation when it comes to labeling chocolate bars. Like with all the chocolate bars that say they have caramel in them only to reveal crunchy, toffee-like candy bits inside. So I could see opening up an almond butter chocolate bar to find slivered almonds within its depths. After all, does the thinness of a standard chocolate bar give enough space to fit in a layer of almond butter Reese's Cup style? 

Not really, unless you do little pockets in each square like Ritter Sport does. What we have going on here is much more interesting--especially since I believe this is the first time I've come across this approach. The chocolate feels so soft when you break into it and when you put it in your mouth because the almond butter is mixed into the chocolate. And the salt is brought in, as well, versus just sprinkling it on top. Sit and ponder that for a minute.

The texture is like chocolate but softer and smoother--but not in a plasticy way. You can tell it isn't from added oil (even coconut oil), which gives a different sort of smoothness. This makes your mind do a double take. Is it like ganache? Like a chocolate nut spread? That last one really does hit it. And again, I mean a chocolate spread that does not contain oil (like Nutella does). This feels more pure and also richer. And more flavorful. 

The salt acts as a seasoning to it all. You don't get hits of salt flavor like with some chocolates, but the salt's presence is definitely known from the moment the chocolate hits the tongue. The black lava salt has an added depth of flavor, but is not too strong or too sharp. It adds to the overall feeling of this chocolate bar being familiar and yet also very different. 

There was a moment where I wasn't sure what to expect from this bar. I just knew I wanted to try it because I've had some pretty great Stone Grindz chocolate before. And this one has left me quite floored, in a good way. The texture and the balance of the three flavors combined with the purity of ingredients is a major win. The fact that there is depth from the darker chocolate and yet also a kind of sweetness and mildness from the almond butter means that this will also appeal to a wide variety of palates. And of course there is no milk here, for those to whom that's important; in fact, this is my probably my favorite non-dairy, nut butter chocolate. It reinterprets the concept in a way that feels completely approachable. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Redeeming Love: Comparison & Contrast

It's a long story about why I finally read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. But I had a lot of opinions on the book before I had even read it. One of these opinions is my annoyance that the Christian fiction genre is mainly composed of romance novels. I like a good love story, too, sometimes (or even a trite one occasionally), but romance novels are a slightly different angle than simply love stories--and anyways, do we really have nothing else to create for the Christian fiction genre? Why can't the Christian romances just be a subset of it, instead of its bulk? 

But why get mad at one book for this? Especially a book that so many people love and describe as life-changing. While I wouldn't go so far as that, there were certain things in it that were well done and that I could relate to. One of the things I have been working on in my life is learning how to have relationships--and when I say learning, I mean that I'm going about it differently than I have in the past. So I did greatly relate to Angel's difficulty accepting/understanding a new way of looking at relationships in her life. Sometimes Christian fiction (whether novels or movies) places emphasis on a character's big moment of discovery. But like Francine Rivers says in her endnote, sometimes those changes take time to become part of our lives. And when we are choosing to live differently, that transition will happen gradually as we come into more awareness and let it sink into each aspect of our lives. 

For anyone unfamiliar with the book, the plot is inspired by the book of Hosea in the Bible. Hosea was a prophet that God led to a marriage which became a metaphor for the way in which Israel kept breaking their covenant with God and seeking other gods. Just as God would still call his people back and still love them no matter how often they turned from him, Hosea also still accepted his wife back after she kept turning away to prostitution (and I think the reminder is relevant that many of the other religions at this time included prostitution as part of temple worship). So in Redeeming Love, Michael marries Angel, who has been a prostitute since she was a child. There are some notable differences there with the story in Hosea. I think the book does a better job at describing the transition out of trauma back into love and fellowship than it does describing continued acceptance in the face of continual backsliding into sin. But I suppose it's still a picture of God's redeeming love either way. 

By the way, the original version of the book came out in 1991, and the version that is in print now came out in 1997. I think it got a little "cleaned up," though I can't speak to the differences since I only read the current one, not the original. This one is not explicit, though it does talk about sex a lot and then some more. It also, within the plot, compares and contrasts rape and consensual, God-designed sex. Just in case you were wondering.

Reading this book put in mind a couple of other stories. Because it came out in the nineties, did it launch the Christian romance novel genre? Most of those books seem to have been published since then, no? I remember really enjoying Deeanne Gist's The Measure of a Lady, which dealt with some similar topics. A young woman finding herself alone with her younger siblings in a wild Western town had to learn how to hold herself as a Christian and protect her siblings while also allowing them to make their own choices and offering help without judgment to the people of the town. I found it very relevant to what it's like being a Christian in society today. It's reminiscent of the way in which many of the characters (Michael in particular, of course) offer help and acceptance to Angel. I also thought of Love Comes Softly, which is kind of like a G-rated version of Redeeming Love, no? Clark shows Marty a new kind of love that she couldn't have imagined before--and through his love, she gets a glimpse of God's love and also gets an entirely new way of living. And it comes "softly" and slowly, just like with Angel. 

And the other story I thought of was The Copper Queen, which is the opera film that Arizona Opera just released last year. I suppose I thought of this one easily because I haven't read/watched a lot of stories about prostitutes. So of course this one would come to mind. But it also came to mind because all of the complaints I had about how redemption was portrayed in that story were done completely differently in Redeeming Love. (Click here to read that post) All of my issues with the opera were flipped and changed in this novel. Angel isn't redeemed by a man--and Michael never used Angel, so his love for her is pure. Michael's love for Angel is nice, but it's God's love that redeems her. 

So while I'm not on the bandwagon about loving this book, it does set up a good theme, one we would do well to remember. The content is still a little heavy for me personally. But if the story is helping people reflect on their own lives, then that is something good. 

Friday, March 18, 2022

Belvie: Lam Dong 70%

Belvie marks another new chocolate company for me. Founded in 2015, they are a fairly new company. The further uniqueness, however, lies in the fact that this is chocolate sourced in and made in Vietnam. I believe those are both new to me--Vietnam is not a common cocoa origin. One of the founders of Belvie is from Vietnam and the other from Belgium. The bar I'm looking at today is the Lam Dong 70%; the cocoa beans are trinitario variety. 

Even with the orange accent, the packaging is sleek and neutral, yet still leans toward a traditional versus modern look. The pale color is reminiscent of unbleached paper of the past, and the lush landscape image reminds me of the Romantic art style. And yes, you can also see on there the Gold award from the Academy of Chocolate Awards in 2017. I take a Gold recommendation from them seriously.

Unwrapping the paper reveals a golden bird on the inside, which is a nice touch. So also is the small sticker that seals the inner paper shut; I can't remember when I've come across a seal like that before. The mold for the chocolate bar is great, as well. There is such a simple and sleek look that it doesn't immediately jump out as being different. Yet the way in which the squares form a radiant burst from the logo in the center is indeed a unique look. With a chocolate bar like this, when you break pieces off they're not necessarily going to break along the design lines. So you can just choose yourself however small or big you want the pieces to be.

There is the slightest hint of bitterness to the chocolate's aroma. Instantly the flavor is warm and sweet with richness. At first I wanted to call one of the flavor notes I was getting perhaps either nutty or woody; it wasn't one of the more common flavors. There is also an underlying hint at bitterness without the chocolate being bitter; I don't know that I've ever come across such a subtle and effective use of chocolate's bitterness. The finish and aftertaste are quite revelatory; I described it as an almost mushroom richness. 

Once I looked at the flavor notes, I see kiwi, raspberry, and licorice, as well as "an intense chocolate flavor that lingers on the palate." They're not exaggerating about that last part. Licorice isn't a flavor note I think of often (and not one that I would generally think would be favorable), but it does fit in well with those final flavors. As for the kiwi and raspberry, all I can say is that they're not citrus--and it's generally citrus notes that I think of as fruity. So maybe that's why I didn't describe this chocolate as being fruity. 

This chocolate is incredible, and it does taste like the idyllic landscape with the trees and mountains and waterfall on the packaging. There is a simplicity and pureness to the taste, and yet the flavors are so elevated as to set up complete elegance. From this chocolate bar, I would highly recommend trying anything you might come across from Belvie. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Tempest in Our Hearts

Although they were back doing live shows last fall, I haven't had a chance to watch any of Southwest Shakespeare's current season until seeing The Tempest last week. It's playing in repertory with Farinelli and the King until March 19/20. 

I'm familiar with some of the basics of The Tempest, but this was the first time I had seen a full production. It's quite grand, jolly fun, isn't it? I tend to prefer the tragedies over the comedies, but this one follows a slightly different tone than is most common with the tragedies. Sometimes the comedy is all about innuendo; that wasn't as much the case here. And with the addition of magic, the plot has a wonderfully random quality. People drop in here and there, setting up a series of little tableaus in which we can focus on separate elements one after the other. 

Then also we have some heavier concepts within the themes. Director Ingrid Sonnichsen's notes in the program explore the idea of forgiveness in the story. Most specifically she refers to Prospero's forgiveness of his brother and the freedom it gives him from isolation. That's great. We can look at the island as a sort of metaphor for how we try and deal with the circumstances we have faced in life. Prospero, with the help of Ariel, is messing with the people he used to know and making them turn this way or that. He's trying to manipulate circumstances in the way he wants--which compares to the past, in which he was, you could say, a victim of circumstances. But along the way of playing with the magic of this island, he comes to realize that he doesn't need to play the game anymore. 

There is a line in the play that I wish I could quote back. It was about love, about how love should stand fast through all circumstances or storms. At least, something to that effect. That's terrific. It connects to forgiveness, too, because of course as people we all fail one another in one way or other at some point; love needs to be willing to accept that and endure through it. We agree to work through the difficulties rather than to run away. We face the tempest head on. 

Though simple, the set effectively put us on the strange island. I particularly like the way in which the draped strips of cloth at some point in the play lit up with lights. It added to the otherworldly, anything-can-happen feeling. For a chance at escapism and for a dive back into Southwest Shakespeare after a long break, The Tempest hit all the right notes. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

To See the Views

 Lost Dutchman State Park looms in the distance when you are headed Southeast out of the Phoenix area. The area is filled with myth: so many have searched for the rumored Lost Dutchman Mine and have only met with their demise instead of gold. Reading the stories, it's easy to see how people can get caught up in the hunt. Yet I think that the great mystery of the Lost Dutchman is about more than gold. 

Maybe it's just because I have a fascination with the volcanic, but I find the entire surrounding area fascinating. The Apache Trail and Boyce Thompson Arboretum. There are so many shapes, colors, and textures in the land. Perhaps this is why people become obsessed with trekking across the landscape: they say it's in search for the gold when they're really under a spell by the land itself. 

The state park offers a few short trails, as well as the one up to the flatiron. Since the latter lies beyond my non-rock-climbing skills, I stuck to the lower trails. They make a small web, so I went up and then down and across and up and back down instead of just doing one small loop. That way I was able to fully soak in the views and textures. Difficulty level is moderate: most is fairly mild, but there are a couple of places that are a little steep or rocky and a little bit of loose gravel that necessitates careful footing. 

Though the weather when I went was in the 80's, there had been snow the week before. So sadly I was only able to see a couple of hidden wildflowers. But snow and rain are good, so I can't complain. And anyways, the geological colors and shapes kept me just as entertained as fields of spring wildflowers would have. After a couple of hours of wandering trails, I had lunch beneath the Dutchman, then made my way home to change before heading out again.

The evening brought me to a dual event in Downtown Phoenix celebrating Southwest Shakespeare's new artistic director, Debra Ann Byrd, and the opening of the Adeline Luxury Living apartments. The event was held in one of the complex's outdoor living areas, complete with culinary delights from surrounding restaurants.

We had a chance to hear performances from both the Southwest Shakespeare Company and the Phoenix Theatre Company. Maya J. Christian's performance of "Too Beautiful for Words" was my first introduction to The Color Purple, and her delivery was indeed beautiful. 

While I was at the Lost Dutchman, I gazed at Downtown Phoenix off in the distance. Then in the evening, I had a chance to go up to the 25th floor of Adeline and look on the last tinges of orange left from the setting sun. 

The location puts it right by both the Footprint Center and Chase Field and does give great views of the lights of the city--but more exciting to me was the way in which South Mountain provided an organic frame for the view. 

From the lonely mountains to the heart of the city, that's where you'll find me.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Amedei: Jamaica Cru Single Origin 70%

Simply trying out a new chocolate company is always exciting to me, but even more so is trying a cocoa origin that I rarely come across. This is my first encounter with Amedei, which is an Italian company and I also don't think I come across a lot of Italian chocolate companies. The bar in question is their Jamaica Cru Single Origin 70%, and Jamaica is certainly not the most common cocoa origin. So that means I had some exciting new territory to cover.

As a company, Amedei seem like a pretty standard couture chocolate company. That is, there is high class in the packaging style. Matte brown and light, burnt orange are accented with gold, and the card box folds out (in a unique folding, I might add--I particularly like the little tab that allows you to close it up again) to show info on their different chocolate bars and the cocoa beans involved. The Cru line of chocolate bars emphasizes the different cocoa origins of each one. 

Despite all that, though, a preliminary look at both the packaging and their website reveals fairly little information. We see the country of cocoa origin and what awards they've won and that they conch for 72 hours, but that's about it. I tend to assume fair trade when it comes to artisan chocolate because I figure if they're creating partnerships with specific cocoa farms then they're probably supporting a positive network (as opposed to bigger companies buying bulk "fair trade" cocoa without asking questions about whether or not it really is). But there really isn't any allusion to that. 

There are basically two standard chocolate bar sizes, one bigger and one smaller. Inside the card box, this one looks like it would be the former until you unwrap and see that the bar is in fact fairly small. After all, it's listed at 50 grams; 50 gram bars just usually come in smaller packages, so this one kind of tricked me. I rather like that. Along with the quest for fair trade chocolate, I think we also need to be willing to eat less cocoa, and smaller chocolate bars (that don't feel like they're small) are part of that solution. It also helps keep the cost seeming more reasonable even if it's the same amount per gram.

The cream wrapper is a little unusual, or at least less common. Its outside looks like paper, but the inside is silver and foil-like. The ten Amedei squares have a simple striped pattern on their edges which ties in with the little logo symbol that's on the front center of the card box. There is a rich, warm, and inviting chocolate aroma. 

From the beginning, the chocolate's flavor had an unusual tone, sort of rich and foggy. Normally I might refer to chocolate as either blue or red, but this felt purple. The image was of a darkened cave or the last shreds of dusk at the close of day. That is, deep and mysterious and yet also not at all bitter. It was also not sweet--and it is sometimes possible for 70% chocolates to be on the sweet side. Past the halfway point of melting, the chocolate became more tender. Here is where it gained more of a brownie feeling or a straight chocolate flavor. The effect was rich and simple and yet with that same depth from earlier. A mild zing comes in the aftertaste.

It's the depth perhaps that gives this chocolate its unique quality. Depth can be associated with flavor layering. But that isn't really what this chocolate has. The depth instead is from the way that the flavor hovers within the depths. It's atmospheric. So I appreciate that I got a different type of experience. This is also a chocolate which will have wide appeal given the lack of bitterness and the inclusion of some straightforward cocoa notes.

Monday, February 28, 2022

We're All Looking for "Someone to Say"

The more Cyrano's release date kept getting pushed back, the more excited I became for the film (directed by Joe Wright). While I've always been familiar with the basics of this story and while I have read the play, it's been a few years since that reading. Rather, however, than do a reread in preparation for the film, I decided it would be best to go in and simply let it be what it would be. So I'm offering very little adaptation analysis. My spoiler-free commentary is that they did a fantastic job and created a fresh take that also gave relevant thematic material for the modern audience.

Now for more detail that may include spoilers if you don't know the story basics. I had no familiarity with the musical from which they based the film. Style-wise, I would call it a less traditional musical. When the actors sang, it felt not so much like they were breaking into musical numbers as that their words had too much emotion for regular speech and needed to be sung in order to fully impart their hearts. That is, I fully bought in to the creative choices. This highly emotive style reminded me more of how characters sing in an opera than in a musical (in general) (and I of course don't mean in terms of musical style). It also goes well with the story's focus on poetic language: the words are so full of meaning that they become musical notes. 

And I really enjoyed the way in which the songs became anthems for all the people instead of just our main characters. Christian's song upon seeing Roxanne also reaches the lips of the people in the crowd at the theatre. Cyrano's advice to the baker about his poetry becomes a whole scene with the various people who work at the bakery. And, most movingly, we see the different men on the front line singing the last words they will write to their loved ones. All of these inclusions show the universality of the longing for love and human affection. Everyone has a story and everyone has feelings about the people in their lives. When Christian, Roxanne, or Cyrano sings, their words are very personal to him/her and yet they are also reflections of their very personal longings of all of our hearts. And I do want to take a moment to especially appreciate Haley Bennett's vocals; if we're asking for a double balance of emotion and aesthetics, there it is in "Someone to Say."

As for the casting of Peter Dinklage, this was a smart way to reinterpret the adaptation and also to give a good role to a good actor. Although our modern sensibilities do still have preconceived ideas of beauty standards, we would find an overt plot based around a man's ugly nose a little too much, unless it were a tongue-in-cheek sort of comedy. But to judge over height, well, we can understand that pretty easily because it's undeniably true. We may appreciate actors like Peter Dinklage or Warwick Davis for the roles we've seen them in, but we all know that there is a real struggle to get cast in good roles when you don't (literally) fit the mold (and that's to say nothing of their personal lives). So we can understand Cyrano's real heartbreak in knowing that he is judged by his physical appearance, as the actor behind him also is. 

And yet. We're not left there. This is a hopeful story. We have Cyrano, who feels like he can never be fully accepted. We have Roxanne, an orphan who longs to be loved. And we have Christian, who indeed enters the scene full of hope and brightness. In Christian's encounters with Roxanne and Cyrano, he begins to sicken under the lie he lives. We started out the story with Roxanne singing about wanting love; she wants something other than the false courtships and marriages of convenience. She wants something real. And so, too, does Christian. In the end, he realizes he would rather die than continue the lie. If he is to be loved, he wants to be loved for himself. If he has no skill with words, then he wants to be loved with full knowledge of his lack of poetry. He feels, in a way, just as used as Roxanne was by De Guiche. 

What did we learn from the tragedy? A hopeful message. We learn that Christian should have faced Roxanne as himself. If she rejected him, then he could have moved on and he wouldn't have led either her or himself on. He could have found love elsewhere, instead of just choosing Roxanne for her beautiful face. And Cyrano should have been honest with Roxanne. She loved his letters and she loved him as a friend. If she had realized sooner that the two went together, then she could have fully realized the love and connection for which she longed. And Cyrano could have embraced her acceptance instead of focusing on the world's rejection. 

The vehicle is a delightfully sappy love story. The message is simple: be yourself and be honest and that is how you will find true relationships with others. And that message never gets old. 

Friday, February 25, 2022

1934 Jane Eyre

While there have been many book to movie adaptations of Jane Eyre, most of them seem to miss the mark pretty widely. The 2006 version I really like, and the 2011 did a pretty decent job, although I don't think it got to the core tone as well as the 2006. The 1996 just made a generic love story out of it all. There is an element of "pleasing love story" to the book, but there are so many more layers to it than just that.

I've put a lot of space before digging into more because, well, I didn't feel like I had much incentive to watch more adaptations if I didn't think any of them would be much good. But it's come time to start back in, beginning with the 1934 version directed by Christy Cabanne and starring Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive. Interestingly, the screenwriter was a woman, Adele Comandini. We make a big deal out of female screenwriters today, but this film is close to a hundred years old. 

Almost as soon as the film begins, the changes made in the adaptation are so great as to be entertaining in their own right. I didn't really feel sympathy for young Jane, and the girl playing one of the Reed sisters looked too cute delivering her lines to be a snobby bully kid. Jane is sent to an orphanage rather than a "school," which I suppose matters little. But she leaves because she's fired not because she has taken the initiative to advertise and get a governess position outside on her own. Jane says she'll be okay because she has enough money that her uncle left her to get by until finding another position--instead of receiving the inheritance at the end as a sort of redemptive gift. 

Oh, yes, and Jane is described as beautiful in the film and she can sing and she has a fancy evening gown and she's quite a spitfire. She isn't a plain, trodden down shadow desperately trying to be seen. And Rochester. If they didn't call him Rochester, we wouldn't even recognize him as the character. He's polite and gentlemanly and attentive and also affectionate toward his "niece," Adele. I guess they thought it would be less scandalous to have Adele be his niece instead of his possible daughter. 

The effect, then, of this Rochester with his loving niece Adele becomes more like a touch of The Sound of Music. It's just a man naturally inviting in a woman to share his life and family in spite of a difference in class. It isn't a woman desperate for affection finally feeling like she is being seen. And Bertha? Whew, what changes they made there. In trying to lessen the blow of Rochester's lies to Jane, in trying to make him less of a bad guy, they in fact removed the chance for a redemption story. The story has to go to a very dark place and both Jane and Rochester have to, in their own ways and on their own, pass through a kind of death before they can find new life. 

This movie just didn't portray any of that. Instead, its focus was more on the element of family. Jane's relationship with Adele gets more focus, and so even her relationship with Rochester takes on that father figure element. Having no father, she falls in love with the man that she sees is a good father figure toward Adele. Adele is the orphan that Jane wishes she could have been. It's okay as a story--but it's so very different from Rochester's actual character. 

I thought that, as the first talking adaptation of Jane Eyre, this film would by default be boring because it's so old. But it's actually vastly entertaining. If you're a fan of the story and doing analysis like this, it's quite a novelty to watch. Watching something more recent like the 1996, you're just disappointed that they didn't do a better adaptation. But with something so old, created in a time in which film was such a different medium, there is some separation. So you can just create a running commentary of disbelief at all the changes they made, and that's some good entertainment. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Renaissance Playground

The Renaissance Festival essentially has nothing to do with history. And that's okay because historical accuracy isn't the goal. The aim is simply fun. So the Renaissance Festival is a place to embrace whatever you wish. A skirt, a sword, a pet dragon, floral jewelry, wings even? Whatever it is, wear it--it's the place where there are no rules and where play and whimsy rule the day. 

Clothing would be enough to entertain me, but it goes further than that. You can make your experience whatever you want it to be. You can just shop--the artisans may pretty much be the same year after year, but there are some great, handmade products. My preferences lie in the tea, amber, and leather. You can get the novelty products, sure, but there are also plenty of things that can make it into your daily life, like silk scarves, earthenware mugs, and jewelry. 

Or you can go for shows. Again, the experience you get is completely up to you. You can go just to eat and watch jousting. Or you can look at the schedule ahead of time and hop from one show to the next all day long. There's music and dancing, as well as the acrobatics and comedy and animal shows. Just know what type of thing interests you and you can see what you want and avoid what you don't want. And none of it has to have anything to do with the Renaissance. It's just an excuse to get together and watch whatever it is you've chosen--like with the artisans, there's some good talent in some of these shows that just needs a venue like this to be in. 

Walking out at the end of the day, I was sad to think that we were all going to go home and change into our "normal" clothing and go about our regular lives. There's such freedom in being in a giant adult playground. In being whoever you feel like being.

Maybe we can take a bit of that into our daily lives, eh? I'm already someone who dresses a little differently from the crowd--maybe because that's the way I feel like I can be myself easier than saying it out loud. So maybe I can practice a little more of embracing being. Ask me questions and I'll gladly answer them; but otherwise I tend to sit in the sidelines and hope my shadow isn't bothering anyone. I forget that, like the people who might like my outfit at the Renaissance Festival, people in the "outside world" might like to know who I am, what I like, and what I think. So here's to freedom of being.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

To Reach the Top

In the middle of the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, Tom's Thumb has long caught my interest. Before I even realized it was a place to which one could hike, I would stare at it while passing by on the freeway. The granite boulders, from that distance, make it look like the ruins of an ancient tower--especially given that the rest of the mountain, from that view, has no granite boulders. So those stand out as if they were brought in versus being part of the mountain. 

Hiking still is a newer thing to me. I'm still figuring out what my ability level is--and how that matches up to trail descriptions. Tom's Thumb I thought was out of my range. But not so. There are two ways to get there, the longer way through the Gateway Trailhead and the shorter way through the Tom's Thumb Trailhead. At around four miles, the latter is a similar length to the Gateway Loop, with which I've come to be very familiar. So a couple of weeks ago when the weather was nice and cool, I decided it was time to seize the moment and go.

Terrain-wise, the look is more similar to nearby Pinnacle Peak. The backside of McDowell Sonoran (where the Tom's Thumb Trailhead is) has more of those granite boulders, whereas the Gateway side is more about sharp, dark, volcanic rock. From the parking lot, the Thumb looked so close, like I could reach it in twenty minutes (since this side starts off at a higher elevation). But of course the trail doesn't go straight up and distances look closer than what it takes to travel them by foot, so it took me about an hour and ten minutes to get to the top.

All the little look-points offer great views, though the extra few steps it takes to get to them can be reluctantly traversed when you're on the uphill. The trail was much smoother than the Gateway Loop, which has those aforementioned sharp rocks. But here of course the smooth gravel was also much steeper. Yet there's grace in that: because it's steep you can go as fast or slow as you like. And you know what, even though Pinnacle Peak is a shorter little route, I preferred Tom's Thumb (among other reasons) because it doesn't have steps. We people with shorter legs prefer to take small steps up the steep slopes than to have to be stepping so high onto pre-made steps. 

It was a pleasure to be able to see things I'd seen only in pictures and to get closer and closer to the treasured Thumb. Close to the top, this lion-profile boulder reminded me of the Cave of Wonders in Aladdin

There's a certain power in having stared at something for a long time and then finally trying it and realizing it's well within your ability, after all. This was a beautiful hike, and each McDowell Sonoran trailhead has such different terrain and views that it's well worth exploring them all. To step out and see possibility and to step out and have the most pressing thing on your mind be the physical steps that you are taking--that's quite enjoyable and refreshing. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Black Butterfly: Valentine's Day Selection

Whatever one's thoughts on Valentine's Day, most any holiday makes for a good excuse for some Black Butterfly chocolate, right? While last year's Valentine's offerings were quite tempting, I didn't get any then because I had just ordered quite a bit for Christmas (and because I wasn't going to be in Prescott in February). But this year I was already going to be in town and I didn't do any Christmas orders this winter. So I went ahead and did a pre-order of three of this year's Valentine's Day offerings. 

If you are going to do special occasion or gift chocolate, this is the way to go. All three are absolutely beautiful. The two smaller hearts (which were $10 each) are about three and a half inches tall, while the large, 3D heart is around five and a half inches (and came in at $25). 

The Diamond Cut Heart is classic in both its look and flavor, which is Peanut Butter Sizzle. The multi-faceted, red surface does indeed resemble a giant gem, smooth and enticing. The shell is neither thick nor thin and houses a familiar peanut butter filling. As Americans, we all think first of Reese's Cups when it comes to peanut butter chocolate. And Reese's Cups are most notable for their saltiness, which is recreated here as well as I have ever seen it done. 

Not to say that this is a recreation of a Reese's Cup, though: I simply mean to say that it acknowledges what our palates automatically expect from a peanut butter chocolate. After that, it's in a completely different range. The roasted peanut flavor is stronger and fresher, and the filling is a dash creamier and less crumbly than with Reese's. So you get some of those familiar notes but in an elevated and therefore completely different way. The effect of this filling is more like a truffle's ganache.

The Pistachio Rose White Chocolate Heart is in a bark style. That is, it's a more flat piece of white chocolate with the pistachios, rose petals, and rose crystals sprinkled on top. The rose aroma spreads in your mouth when you begin biting in, then the creamy white chocolate takes over. The rose sugar creates a delicate and flavorful crunch, and the rose petals leave a floral aftertaste. Pistachios of course add in the nutty element that gives the earthiness to ground all of the sweet and floral flavors.

And third we have the Smashable Heart, which came in four styles. Mine is the Butterfly Love, so it's in Black Butterfly's signature purple. It's a beautiful look, like a celebration of all we love about Black Butterfly chocolate. Perhaps, though, someone choosing to give to their sweetheart might prefer one of the red styles. But I like that there are options besides the standard reds and pinks. 

Yes, you did read that right that this is a Smashable Heart, hence the little wooden mallet that comes in the box. Inside are various chocolate treats. Taking a mallet to a Valentine's Day heart can take on all sorts of levels of meaning, and I'm kind of loving that. You can simply break in to find the buried treasure inside to share with your loved one--you can even make up some sort of game about taking turns to break into it or to choose what to eat from inside. Or you can smash it to smash away painful memories of an ex. Or you can just take charge of the pure delight of opening it up and treating your single self to a chocolate feast inside. 

The chocolate does have to be thick enough to stay stable, but it's thin enough that you only need a medium tapping with the mallet to start it breaking. If it's a shame to eat Black Butterfly chocolates for their prettiness, it felt even more a shame to break this one--that is, until I had the mallet in my hand. It's fun to have free rein for a little harmless violence, eh?

Because I didn't want to make a mess, I tapped one end and then the other and then the middle. Inside I found the delightful treasure: two milk chocolate squares, two dark chocolate squares, two pretzels, two turtles, and crispy pearls. Did I mention fun?

The milk chocolate squares have almonds and cookie pearls along with a good sprinkle of salt; the chocolate is deep/thick, so you get a good bite of sweetness. The dark chocolate squares are shallower/shorter and come with pistachio and cranberry, so you have those classic nutty and tart flavors on the sweet dark chocolate base. The turtles are big and classic in style with a good helping of caramel. You can taste the delicate vanilla notes of the caramel. All of those crispy pearls make the perfect addition to the mix: they visually fill in the empty space and add to the "treasure" feeling. Plus, chocolate pearls are just a great concept, little balls of crisp texture and simple, sweet flavor.

And after all of that, you of course will still have all of the plain dark chocolate from the heart's shell to enjoy. It's a 61% cocoa content, so it's on the sweeter side, which goes well with the playful nature of this piece. 

I can't choose a favorite from these three hearts: they're all so different and each offer something unique. Simple, floral sweetness with the Pistachio Rose. Sleek style and indulgent flavor with the Diamond Cut Heart. And a fun experience as well as a chocolate feast from the Smashable Heart. It is well worth it to order from Black Butterfly for future Valentine's Days--or holidays in general. You'll get something truly unique. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Valerie Confections: Small Truffle Assortment

First I started the tradition of ordering something from Valerie Confections around Valentine's Day. Then I guess last year I added to the tradition by figuring that, while I was doing an order, I might as well also add in a small box of something extra, too. Last year it was the toffee. This year it's a Small Truffle Assortment. Instead of the usual white boxes, this set comes in a clear box that showcases the unique shapes of the nine truffles. There is a standard set of flavors, but their website lists that there can be variations based on availability. I got most of the flavors they listed, with just one that was different. 

Liquid Caramel - This was pretty much a blind tasting, as I had no idea which flavor was which except of course for the one white chocolate. This dark chocolate, square shape with lines running across the top was the one I chose to cut into for a picture. Naturally I made the worst choice for cutting by unknowingly going for the liquid filling. But at least things didn't get too messy. I've had caramel from Valerie before. The sort of burnt sugar flavor goes well with the sweeter notes of the dark chocolate. 

Scotch, Champagne - These are two separate chocolates, but I wasn't completely sure from tasting which was which. I'm going in order here of how I went through the box, so my second choice was the milk chocolate, geometric shape (the one in the top middle). It had a delightful booziness in a creamy silken ganache, so at first I thought it was the Champagne. But my next selection happened to be the milk chocolate square with slanted corners. It also had an alcohol flavor, but it was overall lighter and creamier. I'm concluding then that this was the Champagne (which I've greatly enjoyed before) and the first one was the Scotch (which I've also tried in the past).

Earl Grey Tea - The milk chocolate square with black sprinkles did rather naturally have to be either the Earl Grey or the Jasmine Tea. I like this chocolate even more than the Earl Grey Petit Four. It's like a fresh cup of Earl Grey along with the creamy chocolate base. Stellar.

Mezcal Caramel - I was thrown for a loop by this one. I bit into what I'll refer as the dark chocolate twisted square and found the weirdest caramel with a stingy alcohol flavor. The caramel isn't liquid, but looks extra soft and has a layer of almost liquid type of caramel above it. And that flavor bit me right back. I couldn't figure out what it would be from the listed flavors, so I snooped around Valerie's other flavors and concluded that this must be the Mezcal Caramel. Mezcal fits in with the unique biting nature of the alcohol flavor. When it comes to alcohol truffles, I like to stick to classic Champagne truffles; otherwise, I'm usually out. So perhaps my complete distaste for this one would be delight and fascination from someone else who's more of an alcohol enthusiast. I would have much preferred to have the Moroccan Mint Tea (which was the only flavor I didn't get).

72% Bittersweet - This is the dark chocolate round, which contains a plain ganache. After the previous funky flavor, the simplicity here was a welcome relief. Even Valerie's dark chocolate comes on the sweet and creamy side, which can be pleasing in its own way when it's done like this. 

Jasmine Tea - Here we have the dark chocolate version of the geometric shape. I'm a big fan of these unusual, yet still sleek, shapes; they add quite the visual twist. This tea flavor doesn't hit as strong initially as the Earl Grey does; here it takes time to build. But it's still nice and fresh, and the Jasmine works better with the dark chocolate base. A cup of Earl Grey can have cream and sugar in it, but Jasmine is usually served black. So the dark chocolate works as a better accompaniment. 

Matcha Tea - I saved the one that I for sure could identify for last. Obviously this is the only white chocolate, and inside is that distinctive green from the matcha. It's nice and creamy from the white chocolate. I don't know if I'm just so used to matcha these days (even though it isn't as though I have it often) that this didn't taste particularly strong to me. So perhaps that means this would be a welcome way to ease into match if you do find matcha a little strong in general. 

Gilded - There was also this one, which is also identifiable from the fleck of gold on top. But I set it aside since I've had similar things from Valerie in the past. So no thoughts from me here except that the look is nice and classic.

There was such a variety of flavors here that it's no wonder my comments were somewhat mixed. Plain truffles, tea truffles, alcohol truffles, and the caramel. I can easily see most people preferring one half of the box to the other. I liked the tea chocolates best; along with the Liquid Caramel and the Champagne, they're the best display of what I enjoy about Valerie Confections. The Mezcal Caramel, on the other hand, was an unwelcome addition to what you might call the more feminine flavors of tea and such. So while a box like this is great for getting to try several flavors, just be aware of course that the variety might mean that you'll have some dislikes along with your favorites.