Friday, December 23, 2022

Stone Grindz: Peanut Butter Cup 55% Cacao

Apparently Stone Grindz had some eggnog holiday truffles this year. I've probably missed the window of opportunity for those, but today on the eve of Christmas Eve I bring you to you their Halloween Limited Release, Peanut Butter Cup, which is made with a 55% cacao chocolate. I have not in fact been sitting on this chocolate since Halloween; I did get it much later. Still, I realize that I almost put up this review of Halloween after Christmas--so perhaps an apology on tardiness is still in order.

Usually when I review Stone Grindz chocolate bars, they're just in the clear sleeves that they sell them in at the farmer's market. This one is in the full card box garb, which I normally don't get to admire. Stone Grindz may be so micro batch that they don't even have a store front, but that doesn't mean that their quality is any lower or that they only have a handmade, brown bag look. Clean white makes a base for colorful artwork evocative of the cocoa-growing countries, while gold highlights add class and luxury. The card box folds out to black and white photography of cocoa production and the scenic Arizona desert. I like it for the local element, tourists to Arizona can enjoy it for the same reason, and anyone who has this chocolate delivered to another locale can revel in the exoticness.

Inside, the chocolate bar sits in its familiar clear wrapper. I do appreciate that these are resealable: the inability to reseal is normally one of the disadvantages to most non-foil wrappers. The chocolate's face has the familiar alpacas all lined up in rows and columns. On the back, though, I found some unexpected sea salt chips--that would be the Maldon sea salt mentioned in the ingredients. Salt is, after all, a key element in Americans' perceptions of how peanut butter chocolate should taste, thanks to Reese's Cups.

One bite of this chocolate and I saw (or tasted) why I jumped at the opportunity to get this chocolate bar, even though I knew I was going to get to it far after its Halloween label. It's the same type of style as their Almond Butter and Black Lava Salt that I looked at this spring. That is, the peanut butter element is just mixed right in with the chocolate. Yet it tastes distinctively like peanut butter and semisweet chocolate, along with a dash of salt. The infusion is incredible.

Texture-wise, we have a similar situation as with the Almond Butter bar. It's primarily chocolate texture, but softer somehow in a way that your mind can't quite put its finger on. So that subtle difference plus the distinctive peanut butter flavor is what tricks your mind into thinking that you're just eating those two separate elements--except that you can see that they're blended together, and so you are awestruck by how your chocolate tastes like peanut butter. And it's a good, fresh peanut butter flavor, as well, since there are no filler ingredients or oils or anything like that in here. Because it's mixed in with the chocolate, the advantage is also that the peanut butter won't be too different from anyone's go-to peanut butter. For instance, I like the Trader Joe's peanut butter that's just peanuts and salt and can't stand Skippy--so if a chocolate has a peanut butter filling that's suspiciously like Skippy, I probably won't care for it. But if someone else tries a peanut butter filling with no added sugar or oil, they might not like it. That problem is bypassed here by not actually having a peanut butter filling.

The chocolate is a little sweeter on this one, a little less dark. So it's a little more casual perhaps. But still wonderful in its own right and not sweet in the standard sense. It's still quite elegant. Combined with the peanut butter element and that lovely salt, it's magic. That's what this bar is: pure magic. I can picture it pleasing a wide variety of palates. And the limited ingredients mean wider appeal, as well. So if the flavor ever shows up again or next time Stone Grindz decides to play with nut butter chocolate, I highly recommend giving it a try. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Ariadne auf Naxos

Ariadne auf Naxos was originally intended to be part of Arizona Opera's spring 2020 mainstage productions. After the delay, they brought it back this year for the fall instead, which means that it was at the smaller Herberger Theater instead of at Symphony Hall. The smaller venue felt fitting for this romp of an opera that hits a lighter note than some of the more melodramatic mainstage productions.

For the past several years, I have been diving into the opera having previously known almost nothing about it. I just started watching one, enjoyed it, and kept going. Rather than trying to learn more (other than reading the program and such), I've kept myself as a casual audience-goer. And I like it that way: it proves that you don't have to know the history of the composer or all the cultural nuances of the story to just go to a production and enjoy it. Sometimes you don't even have to know all the details of the plot.

Ariadne auf Naxos can be a slightly complicated storyline to follow: it's an opera within an opera. That is, the characters, after bickering about whether the comedy should go first or the opera, learn that they will have to perform them both simultaneously. So the two groups continue bickering, the opera set about how they have the higher art form and the comedy troupe about how the opera will put everyone to sleep. It becomes a bit of a philosophical debate between the two art forms. High art or pop culture? The arthouse film or the newest superhero movie? The tragedy or the comedy? What makes people cry or what makes them laugh?

Over the course of the production, we as the audience get to see a bit of both. We see comedy to make us laugh and we see sappy drama to stir us. It's actually quite nice, especially for a modern audience who may not be as used to two and a half hours of just sappy drama. The comedy does in fact keep your attention, but not without the benefit of enjoying the sappiness, as well. When the composer is describing his character to Zerbinetta of the comedy troupe, Zerbinetta suggests a simpler, more lighthearted approach--but he insists that "and then she succumbs to death," reveling in the drama of it. I can relate to that. Just put on Bright Star for me and I'll go on and on about the beautiful tragedy of John Keats. Ah, there's nothing like melodrama. 

But there does come a point when we have to say that we ourselves are not John Keats tragically dying at a young age at the beginning of his poignant poetic career. So we do need a bit of Zerbinetta to pull us out of our melancholy, to make us smile and laugh and move forward instead of becoming stagnant. Tragedy happens and it's sad--but only by moving forward do we continue to live. The timing of Ariadne auf Naxos therefore is quite good. Its delay only emphasized the importance of that concept: let's keep on living. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

Alter Eco: Peppermint Creme Truffles

Christmas is just sneaking up on us this year, isn't it? It was all about Thanksgiving coming up, then suddenly all my December plans were here--including some that want to squeeze in but may or may not be able to. So let's hurry and take a look at this year's new grocery store holiday chocolate find. Along with the usuals we've seen before, I saw this green box of Alter Eco Peppermint Creme Truffles. I do see them for sale on their website in regular packaging, which must mean that they are not a seasonal flavor. But it's new to me, so let's indulge in some holiday peppermint.

The holiday element to the little box is light. Besides the green color and a mild floral design, there are just a couple of star shapes. But the green is sufficient, especially on the truffle wrappers themselves. They don't need Christmas trees printed on them to be a welcome addition to a stocking, gift bag, or candy bowl. I like festivity, but I'd rather have a good product that's light on the holiday-specific decorating than a novelty product that is no good to actually eat.

The truffles are the usual round shape with lines cut across the surface. They cut open to reveal a solid white inside. I tasted a little chip of chocolate that broke off to find that there is peppermint oil in the chocolate itself, as well. It's a 58% dark chocolate, so it's definitely on the lighter side. But that's fitting for a candy type product like this, especially when the peppermint oil is going to overpower nuances--and when they're going for the specifically creamy peppermint angle.

Inside, that white creme has that texture that everyone is familiar with who has had Alter Eco truffles. They, of course, have their method of using coconut oil in lieu of cream to give their chocolates a long shelf life for the grocery stores but to also avoid the questionable oils and such that other companies use. Coconut oil yields that silky yet non-plasticy texture (and no coconut flavor). Here, it has more of the peppermint oil and yes, some cream flavor. There is milk listed in the ingredients--so the substitution of coconut oil for creme here isn't to be non-dairy, just for the aforementioned shelf life. 

Naturally, the American mind will taste these and think of Andes Mints. But they are noticeably better, in terms of both the chocolate and the filling. And I don't just mean because these are made with higher quality ingredients. Andes Mints are thin, while these chocolates are fat globes that therefore bring more chocolate and peppermint creme to each bite. That proportion difference on its own gives quite an elevation.

Alter Eco has kept it very classic with these chocolates, and that's what makes them a success, whether as a holiday flavor or later on just as as an addition to their standard line of flavors. I do see that they now make Truffle Thins, which bring the style of their truffles to a chocolate bar shape. That looks even more like Andes Mints--and also looks like a brilliant idea that I will try as soon as they show up at my store.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Stone Grindz: Prickly Pear Spicy Margarita Caramels

I'm a little late in getting this up, but this past November was the long last return of the Chiles and Chocolate Festival at the Desert Botanical Garden. There usually isn't too much to the event, just some vendors and some food and some music. This year, though, the scale was down even more. But I was still able to enjoy a couple of things, including a box of these Prickly Pear Spicy Margarita Caramels from our local Scottsdale bean-to-bar company Stone Grindz.

They had on hand plenty of these brown boxes decorated with floral paper; both the look and the flavor were perfect for the garden and the theme of the day. Inside the box are four pieces, each one in a kind of snowman or gourd shape. The 70% dark chocolate is glossy. Either because of the unusual shape or because of the thickness/thinness of the chocolate, they do tend to be messy to bite into. The caramel is free-flowing and unleashes easily on the first bite. The chocolate from the sides also tends to separate easily from the bottom layer, adding to the messiness.

That aside, though, they're quite nice. Normally one of my struggles with going to the Chiles and Chocolate festival is that I don't usually like spicy chocolate very much. So while I want to go and try what product the different companies are choosing to showcase for the festival, I'm also not too excited about chiles in my chocolate. These truffles are an interesting and unique approach to the chile chocolate angle.

Sometimes I get primarily a smoky flavor from the caramel--it is, after all, "spiked with smoky mezcal and infused with fresh prickly pear puree, ancho pepper, and guajillo pepper." Sometimes I taste a light alcohol hit; sometimes I don't. Sometimes I get a kind of floral flavor from, presumably, the prickly pear. The ancho and guajillo peppers are definitely noticeable particularly once you're past the halfway point. Yet they're not spicy; you can just taste their flavor. Though I'm not an expert on chiles, I do remember that distinctive way guajillo peppers taste in Taza's Guajillo chocolate. It's a tangy, masculine type of pepper flavor that goes well with the smoky mezcal. And the hint of prickly pear mellows those elements and links them in with the caramel and chocolate.

Caramel is generally a sweet thing. Here, though, it's so full of flavor that sweetness is more of an afterthought. You get an idea of sweetness more towards the end, when the caramel is gone and you have just the last vestiges of the chocolate left melting in the corners of your mouth. These caramels are named for margaritas, but it's rare to come across a margarita that has such delicate handling of complex flavor--all played out with pure ingredients. So even though chile chocolates may not be my first choice, it was a pleasure trying out these caramels. Once more, Stone Grindz has shown an excellent use of ingredients and balance of flavor. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

The Petersen House

There essentially remain two Victorian homes left in the Phoenix area: the Rosson House in downtown and the Petersen House in Tempe. The former I have great familiarity with, but the latter I had never been to up until this past weekend. It was high time. The trouble with visiting the Petersen House is that it isn't open very often. You can catch it this December, all decked out for Christmas, on weekends between eleven and three.

The comparison and contrast between the two Victorian homes is fascinating. The Petersen House was built just a couple of years before the Rosson House. Its rooms are bigger, though it has perhaps slightly less of them; I wonder if the square footage of the two isn't about the same. The Petersen House seems bigger, but then again the staircase does take up quite a bit of space in the Rosson House. The Rosson House has quite a bit of elaborate wood details (and those beautiful ruby glass transoms), but the Petersen House has delightful details, as well. Stained glass in a couple of places and little reflective corners on the stairs to help to be able to see each step in limited light. 

Furnishings are nice, as well, in particular the master bedroom set. And the stove in the second bedroom. And the milk glass lamps. The upstairs floor seemed to have more trinkets than the downstairs, no? The parlor/living area downstairs was fairly plain for a Victorian home, perhaps to allow for the Christmas decorations. 

I'm less aware of what the restoration for this house was like. The Rosson House had an extensive restoration because it had been changed so much--but has been brought back mainly to its original state. Because the Petersen House didn't change hands so often, it seems not to have had quite the same experience. It did, interestingly, receive some changes to the outside at least after the 30's: poplar styles changed then just as they do now. So Victorian elements were changed to Craftsman Bungalow style. It gives the outside of the house a particular look today: Victorian bones combined with those distinctive Craftsman columns. Here we also have a chance to see what the Rosson House almost looked like; the brick is painted red, which they started doing for the Rosson's restoration before they figured out how to safely removed the white paint to expose the original brick. The extra paint adds to the dollhouse look, which furthers the contrast with the Craftsman porch. 

It's quite a fun house to explore and a definite must if you live in the area or happen to be visiting when it's open. I do love a cozy Victorian home, especially cozy on this rainy weekend we just had. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Disney Music Comes to Life

Live music has a way of lifting one's mind and transporting it into a realm of emotion through sound. 

Last month's Disney in Concert: Around the World by the Phoenix Symphony was a welcome reminder of the richness of music. The eleven pieces in the selection may have been familiar sounds, yet there is a completely new layer in hearing even a familiar piece live. Add to this also the ability to watch the musicians and notice which specific instruments form those familiar sounds and it becomes quite special.

Though Disney music is part of the Pops series from the Symphony and so is a more casual, lighthearted symphony experience, this music is quite good in its own right. Disney dominated the world of animation for so long not by default but because of superior quality, including that of the music, in their films. That is, there were also two live action films represented, Mary Poppins and Pirates of the Caribbean. I remember being so excited to hear the latter's music from my high school band--suffice it to say that Phoenix Symphony presented that score more wonderfully.

Sure, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid may be the two biggest favorites from my era, but The Hunchback of Notre Dame is stellar music-wise. Getting to hear that music live was a highlight. Hearing the Fantasmic brought me straight into the parks, as did the "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" melody that started off the first overture. I did love starting off the day at a Disneyland rope drop to that tune, maybe heading straight towards Splash Mountain. Ah, nostalgia.

While the music here may conjure up specific images like running off to Splash Mountain or seeing the Notre Dame cathedral, I also had a chance to sit and notice all the little details. Like how delicate the notes are at the beginning of The Little Mermaid. Or how triumphant that Fantasmic theme is and how much energy the musicians bring to it. Though we love the music because of its associations, the music is, like I said, quite good in its own right and well worth experiencing live. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Siphon Draw Apothecary: Chocolate Rose Kiss Lip Balm

On visiting Siphon Draw Apothecary in Goldfield Ghost Town earlier this year, I promised the possibility of reviewing some of their chocolate products. So now at long last we have today the Chocolate Rose Kiss Lip Balm. There is also a chocolate rose soap for any who prefer a soap version (or want to put together a little set), though my preference turns out to be for the lip balm (maybe because I already have a local soap brand, Daisy G's, that I'm used to). There are several scents/flavors in lip balms, besides the Chocolate Rose Kiss. Prickly Pear promises popularity and the Lizard Lips variety is wonderfully named. But it's chocolate that I write about on here, so it's just the chocolate we're looking at.

Much of Siphon Draw's packaging leans toward the black and white look. It keeps things sleek and neutral and on some of the products even creates more of a semi-historical, apothecary look (for the ghost town location) than more obviously western imagery would do. It's just a pale background image, but on this lip balm you can see a picture of the Superstition Mountains, which is where the apothecary's namesake, Siphon Draw, is located. It's also the view from Goldfield. The kiss sticker on the cap adds in that feminine touch.

While I haven't tried many of the apothecary's products, I do have pretty full trust in them by this point. Nothing artificial, as you can tell by their white bath bombs (most handmade bath bombs you come across are in those fantastical colors that are obvious signs of artificial colorings). Like I mentioned before, certain ingredients, most notably the creosote, are also harvested locally. Our lip balm today of course does not have creosote. Its base is cocoa butter, shea butter, jojoba oil, olive oil, and beeswax--all of which are wonderful in a lip balm. I'm biased, sure, but cocoa butter does add an especially nice, soft, moisturizing touch. 

For the rose element, we have both rose hips powder and rose kaolin clay. There's also Vitamin E oil, which is going to be great for the skin. And paprika, chocolate (I'm going to assume this means cocoa powder, as there is no further breakdown of ingredients), stevia, ylang ylang, geranium, and cinnamon. The rose clay, cinnamon, paprika, and chocolate probably all contribute to the warm, reddish-pink color in the balm. It isn't labeled as tinted balm, and I wouldn't quite call it that, either. But there is an almost tint to it, which is a quality I quite like in a lip balm. Whether it will add a hint of color to your lips or not will depend on your own coloring; I feel like it adds just the tiniest hint of color when I use it. 

There is a definite floral feeling to this balm from the rose and geranium. As chocolate lip balms are easier to find than floral ones, I'm enjoying this rosy element. What I was a little surprised by the first time I tried it was a slight tinging from the cinnamon. It's very slight and it goes away immediately; I just wasn't expecting it. I also find that if I'm already wearing some of the balm and I add more, I don't notice the cinnamon when reapplying. It's actually a nice element, adding to the warmth of the flavor, even adding more of a chocolate feel. Because, what with all of these scents and aromas, there isn't exactly a huge chocolate flavor. I feel like I get more of the texture of the cocoa butter and an overall feeling of its presence than any specific chocolate scent/flavor. But I certainly don't mean that as a complaint. I much prefer this to a strong, artificial chocolate flavor added in. Subtle can in fact be more luxurious.

Because of all the ingredients in here, this is a wonderfully moisturizing balm. And the scent is warm and enticing. Rose being one of my preferred fragrances, the inclusion here with the chocolate is welcome. I could easily see using this balm, or trying out some of the others, for a daily lip balm. And the handmade element, as well as the unique scents, make them perfect for gifts, as well. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

Tetris and Accepting Imperfection

I've never been big on computer or phone games. But I liked Oregon Trail back in the day. And Tetris. Oh, I did like Tetris. I was good at Tetris. I could play a continuous game for a long time. I remember finding it harder to play once iPhones came out and you had to use a touchscreen instead of going click, click, click. Tetris is the game that I occasionally do pick up again, mainly when my mind is itchy and needs something to focus on, like if I have five minutes to wait on something I'm a little anxious about. I'm still pretty decent at Tetris.

A couple months ago, I discovered Woodoku and had a temporary fixation with it. It's a little addictive because there are different levels that you complete within a week's time and other little sets that you do over the course of the month. So it makes you feel like you have to check in at least half the days in the week. It looks like Tetris, but it uses that square setup of sudoku. So you use your wooden blocks to fill in the squares, kind of like how you fill numbers into sudoku. I've never seen the appeal of sudoku. But this is good; I like this.

The way that the setup is, you often have no choice but to put a piece in where it will make a trapped, empty space. But it's okay because you have to take the best choice available and think in long term, not just for the one move. You might make empty spaces now, but maybe in the next more you'll get the right piece that allows you to access that space again and fill it in even better than you could have before. After all, since the pieces aren't falling down in ever-increasing speeds like in Tetris, you have time to plan and try to make a strategy (I say try because of course you still don't know which pieces you'll get next) (not that I normally like having to make a strategy--so maybe I like that you can only strategize so far. The strategy is more about how best to fill in space, not about military moves). 

Given that it's so different from Tetris despite looking fairly similar, I wondered. I tried up a game of ol' Tetris again. I wondered if I wouldn't play as well, since it had been a while and since I'd been getting new ways of thinking. And guess what I didn't anticipate.

Usually, I keep a pretty clean Tetris game. Just a couple rows on the bottom, no gaps within the rows. If I have to make a trapped, empty space, I get knocked off my game. The rows start stacking up, and I'm buried. But playing Woodoku got me used to having those empty spaces. So when I found that the best option in Tetris was to make a trapped space, I did it and kept going and cleared up the space again. I found that I could play a better game with higher stacks of rows that I had been able to before. I found that I could play through the imperfection.

Sometimes that's life. You can't fit all the pieces in perfectly. But if you start in with the awareness that they won't all fit perfectly, then you can have the mindset that allows you to best work within that state of imperfection. You can keep reacting, planning not just for the perfect fit but also for the imperfect one. And then you can keep clearing out rows and racing towards your goal.

Monday, November 7, 2022

The Eisendrath House

It's really quite terrible that I've never been to the Peterson House, which is basically the only Victorian house left in the Phoenix area besides the Rosson House in Downtown. So I was looking up to see when they're doing holiday tours this year, and what do I find on Tempe's website? The Eisendrath House. Tour days were only listed at a few a year--with one coming up that weekend. So I betook myself to the Eisendrath House posthaste to see what I could see. (The next tour day is coming up this Saturday 11/12/22.)

The home is a little newer, built in 1930 in the Pueblo Revival style. It's also passed through many hands over the decades. Unlike the Rosson House, which received quite the impression restoration, the Eisendrath House has simply been rehabilitated. The house that you enter now is, then, not entirely like the house you would have entered in 1930; it's simply been put back on its feet, not brought back to its original state. What I didn't know is that the city has recently taken over the house; the day that I went was the first day of their tours. So they're still fairly fluid as they settle in on a tour structure and learn what we want to know about--and learn more about the house.

While I generally consider myself a Victorian at heart (so even the Rosson House leans more towards the 20th century), lately more things have been drawing me towards that general 1930's era. While the wild 20's rocked away the last vestiges of the Victorian era, the 30's did have a certain classiness to them. And what was still considered a little wild in the 30's is considered classy today--like music, or even clothing. So I enjoyed sitting (figuratively) in the era of this house for a bit. 

There isn't much furniture in the house at the moment and, of course, nothing that was originally there. But what is there is enough to give that impression of the types of things that would have been in it in 1930. And that, too, I enjoyed. It's a Pueblo Revival style home, but Rose Eisendrath didn't furnish it in "Santa Fe style" or "western" furniture like we have today. She seems to have furnished it in the type of furnishings she would have used for any of her other houses. I do like that concept. If I were to move into a pueblo/western/Santa Fe style house, I could still put my Victorian-esque furniture and decor inside. If I were to move into a really modern, clean lines, lots of glass sort of house, I could still decorate it with my Victorian trinkets. I like the idea of keeping the style of what furnishings and decor you have for as long as you can--and fitting them into whatever style of house you are in. It doesn't detract from the style of the house itself (necessarily--I know that's a broad statement), so long as you're not actually altering the structure of the house. If there are beautiful wooden vigas/beams, for instance, don't paint them or cover them just because they're not your style; let them be and put your style in the furnishings. You can work in some details to connect it all--like, in this case, maybe some pottery. But I like the idea of bringing styles together (okay, which is also why I like the Victorian era--they loved juxtaposition). 

I ramble. But my point (rather than to tell you exactly what I saw or learned from visiting the Eisendrath House) is that visiting these places makes both for a wonderful way to spend an hour and for a great conversation starting point. It's always intriguing what speaks to each of us, what inspiration we gained from visiting the same little spot.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

It Can Never Be Like It Was Before

Since moving back to the Phoenix area almost six years ago, I've been trying to enjoy the things the city has to offer, like the arts. Arizona Opera, Ballet Arizona, Southwest Shakespeare Company, Phoenix Symphony, Arizona Musicfest, the Mesa Arts Center, the Orpheum Theatre, Herberger--there's plenty to keep busy with show after show. So up until last month, I had never attended a performance from Phoenix Theatre Company. 

If Bandstand was anything of an example of the quality of their productions, I've been missing out. (Granted, Phoenix Theatre Company tickets also cost more than some of the saver ticket options for other companies, though they do offer lots of promo codes.) This musical was at their Mainstage, which is a relatively small venue. Yet the production was full--music and choreography and singing. Even towards the back, you're close enough to enjoy the detail of it all.

The story follows WWII vets trying to make their way back into society after the war. We also focus on Julia, the war widow trying to have an identity besides just being a war widow but also trying to find closure for the loss of her husband. And the way in which their story of "coming home" is told is quite unlike any other. Their PTSD, their lingering issues (whether physical or mental), their fears, their memories, what sets them off--it's all thrown in within the story. We don't see the innocent young men before the war, then the haunted men after the war, and then some sort of third act event that brings it all to a climax, then the resolution. That is, we see all the stages of the story told in the musical. But we don't see those stages in the characters' lives. We come to understand that for them, there is no going back, no coming home (in which I inadvertently take some of Frodo's words--which I suppose is fitting given that Tolkien wrote his story after his experience in WWI). They'll always carry the war with them; the sacrifice wasn't just in the time spent overseas but in their whole lives. It can't ever be "just like it was before."

So the story itself is incredibly moving. And the performances matched the material. 

Having dabbled in swing dancing in the past year, that swing era now has a little bit of connection for me. So it was nice even just getting to hear all the music and see the choreography. This is one of those musicals that flows from one song to the next; the beats keep moving. Swing makes for a wild and reckless abandon to energy that tries to stave off the pain of the war--and audience-wise, provides levity towards the serious material. Somehow this musical acknowledges the depths of darkness while also not being depressing. That's what art can do, though, no? The darkness is made into an elevated view of reality--by both the band in the musical and by the musical itself. Art can heal not by taking away the pain but by giving it outlet, giving a place to state the truth in full force in a way that you couldn't in any other way. 

Monday, October 31, 2022

Pumpkins at the Farm

I remember back in the day when it was Young's Farm in Dewey on the way to Prescott. We would stop at their store for pumpkin bread and candy sticks and take a few minutes to feed the goats. Though Mortimer Farms has been there for several years now, I haven't spent as much time there. What a better way to do so than their Pumpkin Fest?

I'll repeat some of my reflections on the Desert Botanical Garden's Halloween event. Sometimes events are more for children--which is great, but less great when you don't have children. Mortimer's lets you walk the line between child and adult, if you so please. I didn't really watch shows, but there are shows. And there are rides, rides that the children were enjoying but rides that didn't say they were for children only, or even any sort of height of weight. 

So what do the non-children do? Attack the spinning ride. A central pole with a sort of X at the bottom, with places to sit at the end of each arm of the X. Ropes go from just in front of each side to the top of the pole. So four people sit as someone winds the X around the pole, then lets go. As the ropes unravel from around the pole, the X spins faster and faster, then starts over in the opposite direction from the force of the unraveling. You can go slowly and just wrap it around a little. Or you can have two adults using all their might to quickly bring the X as high as it can go. And it spins much faster than you might expect. It feels like you should have a seatbelt or like your neck might break from the pull. Lovely. Even faster than the teacups at Disneyland. 

Or the little zipline. The non-children took over two of the four lines for a few minutes. Nobody hit the ground or broke the break. Impressive. Then of course there is the corn maze. I had never been in a corn maze before. I don't know that we actually made it to the actual end, maybe just an opening, before turning around and going back out the same way. But it was a nice windy way of exploration, a pleasant walk on a sunny fall day. 

There are chickens and goats and cows and ducks. (Pony rides, too, though of course those really are only for the children.) Silhouettes. Face painting. Food from the farm. Even at the end of October, still plenty of pumpkins left in the patch for picking. Much more fun than picking one up at the store. And these come in more colors and shapes, too. Not just orange but also green and white. 

So whether you are going with children or simply children at heart, there is diversion at the farm. Also lots of sun and open space, and that alone makes it worth the visit. I still miss my memories of Young's Farm, but now I'm feeling warmer towards Mortimer's having actually spent some time there. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A Strange Garden of Pumpkins

A few years ago, I shared some daytime pictures of the Desert Botanical Garden's Halloween event, Strange Garden. They used to put up these wonderful pumpkin people displays. I would bypass the event and see the pumpkins during the day instead. This year, then, was the first year in which I went to Strange Garden itself.

This year there were no pumpkin people. But there were various stations, child-focused, to show desert animals and funky cactus and magic and other Halloween-y curiosities. This is why a year or two ago they tried out doing an adult night: like with most Halloween events, there isn't much for adults. At least, not much besides the nighttime garden itself. And I do simply enjoy an excuse to get a little dressed up and wander around an event.

The familiar garden with fog? What a perfect time to play with taking spooky pictures. And the pumpkin patch, how pretty. Strange Garden's pumpkin patch is nice and clean and neat, with the pumpkins arranged all over the amphitheater area in rows and piles. I tried not to be envious of the children who could pick out a pumpkin to take home; instead, I consoled myself with taking lots of pictures of and with the pumpkins.

There is a novelty to taking pictures of pumpkins and cactus together. Maybe especially because I can go to the garden whenever I want--so any little embellishment to its usual state is entertaining. For people with kids, it's a less chaotic, more laid-back Halloween activity option--there's no candy, but at least they get a pumpkin. Maybe, too, it works that way for adults: you can dip your toe into a Halloween event, dress up a bit if you like, but not have to immerse yourself fully in crazy crowds. 

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Theo: Snickerdoodle Cookie Bites

This summer I took a look at two of the newish Cookie Bites from Theo. As I mentioned there, of the three flavors, the Snickerdoodle bites were the ones I had been most interested in trying back at their product launch. So even though I'd decided that this product wasn't really designed for me and my particular interests, I had to take one more look at the Snickerdoodles when they showed up on my store's shelves.

I do mean a brief look. The basic concept is the same here. The same style of packing continues, just with a warm, orange-brown color scheme instead of the cranberry and green. It's an easy choice to go along with the cinnamon sticks. The look is timely for me: it fits right in with the fall season of orange pumpkins and cinnamon-spiced everything. 

The cookie bites look the same as before, too, except that they're milk chocolate instead of dark. This is also what I was curious to try: Theo makes some of my favorite basic milk chocolate. The aroma is of super sweet milk chocolate, though the description says that this is their usual 45% milk chocolate. And it's also of strong, sweet cinnamon--much stronger than I would have expected. 

There is a crisp crunch to the texture, perhaps a tad more than last time. I'm not tasting any of the cookie dough flavor that I mentioned with the others. What I do taste is some milk chocolate and full, sweet cinnamon flavor. Lots of it. Forget Snickerdoodles; these are cinnamon cookies. Add some ginger and cloves and they could be gingerbread. I don't exactly eat Snickerdoodle cookies regularly, so maybe I'm remembering wrong, but I don't remember them being this strongly cinnamon. They're mainly sugar cookies with a touch of cinnamon, right? I'm going to venture out and say that these cookie bites will be too strong for some people.

However. I don't mind the strong cinnamon. I add cinnamon (and ginger) to oatmeal every morning. When I make hot chocolate, I add cinnamon (often ginger, too). I like gingerbread cookies. I like chai. So I don't mind strong spices, and I know I'm not alone in that. Even though I've said that the strong cinnamon (which, again, is sweet and not spicy) will probably be off-putting for some palates, for me I find it endears me more to these cookie bites. Whereas before I felt like I just wasn't the right audience for this product, these I'm enjoying, in a casual sort of way. A little hint of milk chocolate, a crisp crunch, and warm cinnamon make for a pleasant fall sweet. They're halfway between a cookie and a piece of chocolate, and turns out that's not a bad place to be.

Monday, October 17, 2022

The Problem with Pinocchio

Someone asked me recently about my opinion on the Disney live-action remakes, saying that it seems like major Disney fans usually don't like them. But when I go and think about it, my opinions do vary for each film. Some are good, some are boring, some are terrible, some are a combination. And the ones that are bad aren't all bad for the same reasons. Given that, I really didn't know what to expect from the latest rendition of Pinocchio. I suppose I wasn't in a hurry to watch it, although a month is less time than I waited for some of the others (and some I still haven't watched). 

Some of these remakes set about to be very different from the original, animated versions; some basically mimic the original. Pinocchio seemed to be going with the latter approach. So I could on about how it's strange to be watching the "live-action" version with so much CGI in it--hardly anything is actually live, anyway. (What about completely computer animation remakes? Do you think they might ever do that?) Or I could talk about how strange the audio was for the CG characters (I thought there was something wrong with my headphones).

But my issue is with the cap at the end of the film. (I'd warn about spoilers but I don't think there's anyone to warn. Anyone who cares that much would have already watched the movie.) When Geppetto and Pinocchio are joyfully reunited after escaping from Monstro, Geppetto declares his love for Pinocchio just the way he is. Our narrator explains that some versions of the story say that Pinocchio did then become a real boy--but that it doesn't really matter either way because he was already real. It's possible to blink and not realize just how problematic this seemingly sweet message is. 

Pinocchio's story is a moral tale. (Click here to read a post in which I go into more detail on this.) He is created by Geppetto and must learn the moral traits of honesty, bravery, and unselfishness before he can become "real." Along the way, he falls into temptation and sin. He grieves his father/creator's heart. But Geppetto never gives up on Pinocchio, and in the end Pinocchio is willing to do all he can to seek his father in return. He learns his lesson from his actions and becomes a real boy. 

To say that Pinocchio was just fine the way he was is to say that transformation and learning were not necessary. Transformation is necessary. We as people are inherently flawed. We do make bad choices. We do need transformation. So to say that we can be left in our original state and that that's okay is deeply problematic. It is necessary to remember that just because we need transformation does not mean that we cannot or are not loved the whole time through. Remember, Geppetto, though his heart was grieved by Pinocchio's choices, never stopped loving his boy and never stopped pursuing him. He never stopped calling to Pinocchio even when he was out living it up on Pleasure Island. So when I say that it was necessary for Pinocchio to transform, I am not saying that he was unloved before his transformation. I am not saying you can only love someone who is transformed. I'm just saying that, morally, we should all be striving for a constant state of transformation. We should all be looking to say no to temptations and strive to become better and become new day by day. Pinocchio's transformation from wood to flesh is a metaphor. It isn't discrimination against people made of actual wood (I haven't met any--have you?).

Notice, too, the changes in Pleasure Island. They made it more into a fun fest, a very specific, child-focused exploration of rule-breaking. The animated film made it clear that these were temptations to do all the "bad" things that adults like to do. Sure, there were some carnival games on the outside. But the main things the boys were excited about were smoking, drinking, gambling, and generally being rough. If, for whatever reason, Disney felt like they wanted to have something more visually cleaned up and "family friendly" (although they make plenty of non-family-friendly content, so I don't really buy that excuse), then they could have chosen other vices that would still hold that same message of "badness" rather than simply reckless rebellion. It needs to be clear that Pleasure Island represents a departure from moral standards. 

Ah, but therein lies the issue. Our society these days takes issue with moral standards. And Disney, being a public company, is experimenting with going along with society instead of sticking to its core of moral tales. Pinocchio, he just needed to learn that he was fine as he was all along, he just had to believe in himself. No, no, no. Pinocchio had to learn, like we all have to learn, that temptation and its consequences are very real; therefore, we must listen instead to the still, small voice and stay on the good path and turn back to our Creator who is lovingly pursuing us and then we can trade in our wooden limbs for flesh. 

Friday, October 14, 2022

Emily, Is That You?

What? There's a movie coming out this month about Emily Bronte? (In the UK--there's no US release date yet.) Why didn't I know about this sooner? Let's watch the trailer (here's the link). 

Hmmm. Must've been the wrong link, the wrong trailer. That didn't look like Emily. Oh, wait, no, there's the title. Emily. Hmmm. Well then.

I admit first and foremost that I'm reacting to the trailer only. Trailers are generally sensationalized. Maybe the movie is completely different. But for the sake of conversation, here is why the trailer leaves me questioning whether I will even watch the film at all when it becomes available for me to watch. 

My Victorian novels professor liked to reference "the Bronte myth," this idea of the Bronte sisters as these wild figures wandering out on the moors. It's an idea that stirs up people's imaginations and has been in large part responsible for people's fascination with the sisters--but it's not an entirely factual look at the three small town, parson's daughters. A couple of years ago, we had that quiet film To Walk Invisible that aimed at showing the reality of the sisters' lives without sensationalizing them. This film is obviously taking a completely different direction and just sticking with the Bronte myth, adding to the embellishment. 

We get it. Emily was the more disturbed of the three sisters, if that's the word you want to use. Even though Charlotte is labeled the genius, the argument can be made that Wuthering Heights is a more perfect novel than any of the ones Charlotte wrote. And when you read the sisters' poetry, Emily generally has the best. There is obviously that "artistic disturbance" to her writing, that deep way of thinking about all aspects of life. And all of those thoughts were contained in one shy young woman who didn't like to venture out and was hesitant to share her writing even with her sisters. Of course our imaginations latch onto that and want to make it so melodramatic and modern.

I realize in watching the trailer that I know less about the specifics of Emily's life than I do about Charlotte's. I don't know whether her tutor friend in the trailer is based on a real person or not. I would imagine he is--unless the movie really is just throwing reality out the window. (By the way, is Branwell in this movie? What's a sensationalized Bronte film without the drunk brother?) But even if Emily had a close friendship with him in reality, what's this passionate kiss in the kitchen? Come on. Did we forget what era this is? This is why I sometimes have only so much patience for period films: they're too modern. And oh, yes, then we have to follow with her father's voice warning her about bringing shame on the family. Yes, father Bronte was harsh on his family--but let's call that what it was without having to add more to it. I sense the stirrings of modern, feminist perspective--and I don't think the Bronte sisters would have been modern feminists even if they had been born in the current era. But that's a whole conversation.

Yes, the fact that the sisters were women who were writing and then even publishing what they wrote went against the norm of society. It was quite bold of them. But those stirrings in the heart that lead many of us to write are common to humanity. I really love reading their writings and studying their lives; I can relate to a lot of things with them. But the Bronte sisters were just people. Emily Bronte was just a quiet woman living in a small town and thinking deep thoughts because she observed so much life in every little thing she saw. That's why her novel is set similarly in a small town dealing with a very isolated set of people. It's all about getting to the humanity of it. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

Marshmallow MBA: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Normally I'm not a big marshmallow fan. But I have learned that handmade or gourmet marshmallows are an entirely different species from the store-bought bags of questionable white sponges. And when I saw these Mexican Hot Chocolate marshmallows from Marshmallow MBA, how could I resist? An investigation was necessary. 

Marshmallow MBA is all the way out of Red Lion, Pennsylvania. Their founder makes marshmallows in continuance of the tradition she had with her grandmother. And their specialty is going for any flavor but vanilla. Hence the unusual Mexican Hot Chocolate--well, unusual for a marshmallow, that is. Even though there is a small company aspect to the simple packaging (the long clear box with sticker labels), the simplicity of the style also adds to the gourmet angle. These don't come across as cutesy, craft fair sweets. They look refined--which is why I was willing to pay a premium price to try them out. 

And even though there are only six marshmallows in the box, you're getting quite a bit of total product: these are big. They measure in at about 1.75'' by 1.5." There's a nice, warm, light cinnamon aroma once you open the sealed bag inside. The marshmallows are soft with that distinctive bounce. If I called grocery store marshmallows sponges, these are memory foam. As you can see, they have a brown color on the outside but are lighter on the inside when you cut them open. The original outer edges of the marshmallows are also darker than the other sides. That is, the sides of the original, giant piece of marshmallow before they were cut into individual marshmallows have more color. But they're also not shedding cinnamon powder. 

The marshmallows have a good flavor and texture on their own; the sugar tastes nice. Mexican-Hot-Chocolate-wise, they have that same warm cinnamon taste as in the aroma, just with a touch more of spice. And yes, it you have a nibble from the aforementioned outer edge versus a nibble from an originally inner edge, it will have more spice. It's enough on the outside to be mildly spicy, but still not so much as to be overwhelming. I was a little concerned about that. I don't care for chile chocolates that are straight-out spicy like a hot salsa, or so much so that you can't taste the chocolate. So these marshmallows, fortunately, are not like that. The spice feels more like an amping up of the cinnamon: it goes along with the sweetness rather than covering it up. It's like when a salted chocolate is salted to just that perfect level, just enough to give edge to the flavor. So unless you're very intolerant of any level of spiciness, I'm labeling this as a mild spice level.

There is a touch of light chocolate flavor. Just a little. It's the brown color, the sweetness, and the cinnamon that probably lend as much idea of chocolate as does the inclusion of cocoa powder. It seemed quite natural to me to try one of these cinnamon chocolate marshmallows over hot chocolate. I just so happened to have some Mexican hot chocolate on hand, so I melted a chunk of that and topped it all off with pieces of a giant Mexican Hot Chocolate Marshmallow, along with another chunk of the hot chocolate on the saucer. I did receive good and well delight simply from looking upon the beauty. (Granted, it's also terrifying beauty to me--that's a lot of sugar all together on one little saucer.) The marshmallows stayed nice and firm on top instead of just melting right away. So they don't necessarily add a lot of flavor to the hot chocolate, given that they were mostly left at the bottom of the cup after the hot chocolate was gone. But they were still a fun addition.

Really, the possibilities are endless with something like this. They're nice to eat on their own. They're pretty in hot chocolate. S'mores would be fun to try. They're the type of thing you want to play with and try out in different ways and make into the center of attention. Not bad for a little, edible gift, either; we love the edible gifts, don't we? I probably won't be revisiting more of Marshmallow MBA's products on here given that they're marshmallows and my focus is chocolate. But I did enjoy this little investigation. I admit, if we're talking gourmet/handmade, I do begin to see the appeal in marshmallows. 

Monday, October 3, 2022

Disney, Rock, and Strange Moods

When I occasionally go on YouTube crawls, clicking from video to video, it isn't to watch dogs and cats befriending turtles and canaries. Usually it's when I get sucked into music. I'll start maybe listening to that one concert where Lacey Sturm performed with Skillet. Click here and click there and before I know it, I'm listening to rock covers of Disney songs. 

That is, people can have a very loose idea of what makes something a "rock" cover. Or "metal." I have found some of these quite disappointing. But Peyton Parrish, though. Apparently like the rest of the Internet given the high number of views his videos have, I think he does an excellent job with the Disney covers. I stumbled first across "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan. Then later he came out with "Go the Distance" from Hercules. The former was a wonderful display of the concept of masculine strength. And the latter took that a step further into transcendent space. 

When Hercules sings that song, he's just a young man setting out on an adventure looking for excitement and belonging. He's imagining the glory of it all. Yet this cover takes that and gives it a subtle nudge. Instead of "going the distance" for glory, here the speaker wants to go the distance to hold on, stay the course, run the race, do what's right. The line "to look beyond the glory is the hardest part" stands out more as an explanation of his motives. This song now is not about seeking fame. It's about enduring with strength for an ultimate reward. Instead of the "hero's waiting arms" being Zeus, the father Hercules has been separated from and whom he hopes to please, the line suddenly sounds quite bolder than a Disney lyric. It suddenly sounds like we're talking about God's love--and I see your Lion of Judah tattoo, Peyton, so I doubt I'm making this angle up simply as the viewer. Ah, gotta love when we find deep meaning in Disney songs (I've gone on such tangents about Snow White and Sleeping Beauty and the symbolism I find there). 

And then once I ended up on Blackbriar and Ulli Perhonen's "Snow White and Rose Red." I couldn't quite tell if this was my missed Goth calling music, or if this was just too far off the deep end for me. After attempting to delve in more, I'm going to go with the latter. Sometimes clicking and clicking in strange moods can lead to interesting discoveries; sometimes, though, it leads to discoveries that you only find intriguing when in such aforementioned strange moods. Ah, the endless possibilities of music and song. 

Friday, September 30, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Gola Rainforest Sierra Leon 70%

We have come to the end of the Monsoon Chocolate haul. We're finishing with a classic dark chocolate, the Gola Rainforest Sierra Leon 70% Dark Chocolate. The pottery design this time is against a white background, with the black monsoon cloud to indicate dark chocolate. The overall look is less earthy, with the contrast of the white and blue being a tad more playful, as well.

The smooth surface of the chocolate has a mild, semisweet aroma with silvery tones. Instantly, its taste is sweet, like a chocolate dessert with the richness of fudge. Then it deepens. Just a hint of tang comes in--the precursor to what would otherwise be a hint of bitterness. The flavors smoothen back out to more of that flourless chocolate cake appeal; they get warmer, with just a hint of dried banana. It finishes smooth with a warm aftertaste. 

This is quite a mellow chocolate--and yet it has its own kind of boldness. It's just very gentle about it. Like a colorful introvert. Personality-wise, this is very similar to what I had described with the Esmeraldas Ecuador 75%. If this gentleness is a trait of Monsoon Chocolate, I'm all for it. But I will be curious to do a side by side of some of their dark chocolates to see how they contrast when tasted together. For now, I had to focus on getting some of those intriguing flavored white chocolates. Next time, I'll try more dark chocolate. 

Because there will be a next time. This is a wonderfully pleasant, rich, smooth chocolate. Though there is depth beneath the surface, its simplicity makes it alluring. At this point, I have faith in Monsoon Chocolate in the overall sense, whether it's their dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or desserts. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Monsoon Chocolate: Blue Corn Atole White Chocolate

Besides the Mesquite White Chocolate, this bar, the Blue Corn Atole White Chocolate, was the one I was most excited to try from Monsoon Chocolate. Now that I have, though, I'm left somewhat stumped. But let's start from the beginning.

Though strong blues can be a bit too much sometimes, the blue clouds in this design actively portray clouds coming to water the crops to yield a harvest of blue corn for our chocolate. The back of the packaging gives us info about blue corn and the Pueblo tribes of Santa Ana, as well as some details about what atole is. Normally I think of atole as thickened hot chocolate--but its spices and consistency can vary, just so long as it does have that corn or masa thickener. I guess an atole chocolate bar should be a fairly natural idea, but this is certainly the first I've come across--and using blue corn is a further unique element. Unique but intriguing.

The Mesquite White Chocolate's color was fun to look at. By the time I got to this blue chocolate that is blue like the exact shade of blue cornmeal or blue cornbread batter, I was both amused and wondering if this was too much. Blue cornmeal white chocolate? Who ever heard of such a thing? I love the idea of it--but it's also a little out there. Here I will make note that the ingredients list purple pea flower, which can be used as a natural food dye. I'm guessing that the amount of cornmeal that would be necessary to color the chocolate was a greater proportion than what was needed to flavor it, hence the use of the purple pea flower. If my assumption is correct that this is the dye, I do regret that this isn't simply the natural color of the chocolate. Blue color adds to the novelty, but perhaps in the case of such a chocolate bar showcasing heritage Tamaya corn, sticking to the natural state would have fit in better than going for novelty. Even though it is the perfect shade of dusty blue.

Once more, the aroma is of cocoa butter. Strong cocoa butter. The chocolate tastes sweet, like the sweetness of the corn. This is where I was somewhat reminded of the Corn Cookie from Monsoon's shop; that cookie also used corn to add to the sweetness, enabling a lower sugar content. There is a slight dustiness to the texture, more than with the Mesquite. The idea, so explains Monsoon, is to keep "just enough texture to enhance the perception of the delicate and floral qualities of the heirloom corn." Usually chocolate bars are showcasing the delicate qualities of the cocoa beans; again, I rather like the idea of also showcasing specific ingredients within the chocolate. 

Blue corn is richer in flavor than other corn. I noticed that the time when I made corn mush/porridge out of blue cornmeal. So while I don't know how I would do on a blind taste test between blue corn white chocolate and yellow or white corn white chocolate, the corn flavor here is quite rich. Its flavor plus the cocoa butter also make it feel like a fairly sweet chocolate, despite this 45% white chocolate being lighter on the sugar than is normal for a white chocolate, as we discussed last time. It's definitely a sweeter experience than the Corn Cookie. 

Really, eating this chocolate isn't entirely unlike eating blue cornbread; you just have the added chocolate texture and cocoa butter flavor added in. Which is a little weird. It's pleasant, but also quite weird. Even though corn is, for most people, more common to eat than mesquite is, this is a stranger bar of chocolate than the Mesquite. Yet it's also quite natural when you think about atole. Even if the average person in the U.S. may not have ever had atole, we're familiar with hot chocolate; and atole is a variation of hot chocolate, with this bar of chocolate being a spin on atole. So it's kind of an example of modern inspired by traditional. 

I said that this chocolate bar has left me stumped because I find myself asking, why? I just gave the answer: it's chocolate inspired by atole. And it's white chocolate so that the corn can have space to not be overpowered by the flavor of chocolate. So then maybe the question should be, do I want this chocolate to exist? Obviously I do since I was so excited to try it. And I like all the conversations around it. It is pleasant to eat. But I don't know that I would buy it again, unless to have people try it. That seems to be what this chocolate bar is: a conversation piece. I used the word novelty earlier, and that's what this chocolate is. It's a novelty, though in a different sense than chocolate shaped like hammers or alligators. It's something you try for the pleasure of exploring. There is a possibility that the flavor grows on you over time (like that avocado ice cream with chiles and beet sauce from Sazon in Santa Fe that I found myself craving months after). But only time will tell that. 

For now I'll simply say that I enjoyed trying this chocolate. It's unique in a good way, which is why it also placed at the International Chocolate Awards. But it's probably a one-time experience sort of thing.