Saturday, July 30, 2022

Leith Chocolate: Lavender Milk Chocolate

I'm a little stumped. When I saw this bar, I said, yes, of course I've had that brand before, but I'm just not sure if I've had the Lavender Milk Chocolate before or not. But then the name Leith Chocolate didn't sound familiar--and it didn't turn up in my database of reviews, either. I knew I'd had this company's chocolate before, so I looked up the Gin & Tonic bar that I remembered. Ah. That one is by Coco Chocolatier--but the style of the packaging is so much the same that I knew they had to be the same company. It isn't uncommon for a company to change names, or even to go by a different names in different countries. But there is no website listed for Leith Chocolate on the packaging and not much comes up under that name in the searches. However, the physical address listed on the chocolate bar matches the one on Coco Chocolatier's website, so whatever the story is behind the two names, we can conclude that these are indeed the same Scottish company. 

Although I didn't care for the "watercolor painting from a '90's hotel room" look of the other packaging, there is a slight difference with the coloring and texture here that is more appealing. It's a bolder, less neon look. In fact, the simpler font of the label, as well as the black rectangle below the white, also contributes to a steadier look. 

The bar inside is sleek. It's molded perfectly and so is smooth, as well as light in its creamy color. It's aromatic, too--like peppery lavender. This peppery lavender is the same that immediately comes through in the flavor, as well. As I've mentioned before, there are generally two types of lavender flavor when it comes to things like chocolate. One is sweeter and more floral, and the other is this peppery kind. I don't necessarily prefer the peppery lavender, but it does work well here. And that's because of the chocolate.

Although this is supposedly a 40% cocoa milk chocolate, it seems like it's lighter. It's nice as a milk chocolate, but it's fairly on the milky side--which I'm associating with a lighter percentage. Or it may be that when it comes to darker milk chocolates, I'm used to Theo's 45% Pure Milk bar--and 5% is still a difference. European milk chocolate does also tend to be milkier and American milk chocolate sweeter, so that may be a factor here. All this to say that this is a creamy milk chocolate. It has more depth than average, but not a huge amount. And because the lavender flavor is dominant, the chocolate doesn't have much chance to take the focus. But because the light cocoa flavor comes with all that cream, it makes for a good contrasting base for the peppery lavender. And it does indeed become evocative of the ever-growing-in-popularity lavender lattes (no pumpkin spice for me please, but lavender lattes I can get behind). Or, if you prefer, you could also say it's like a cup of Lavender Earl Grey with cream and sugar. 

Either way, it's a lovely bar of chocolate--if you like lavender. (If you don't, I hope you don't need me to advise you not to get a lavender chocolate bar.) I for one prefer stronger lavender to barely-detectable lavender, so that is perhaps something to keep in mind if you prefer a lighter touch of flavor. But the flavors that are here are balanced well. And we've just passed lavender harvest season (in the southwest, at least), which makes this feel like the perfect time for enjoying lavender chocolate. 

Monday, July 25, 2022

The Harmony of The Lion King

I couldn't even tell, at first glance, where the performers ended and where the costumes began. That's how stunning the costuming and puppetry and performance of The Lion King were when it was at ASU Gammage this month. The musical isn't new, of course. I knew that it was rated highly, which is why I wanted to make sure and see it when it was in town. This is one case where the show did live up to the hype. 

Just the opening number is beautiful. The costumes, the set design, the choreography, and the performances in both movement and music elevate this show. If the story showcases the circle of life, so, too, does the musical exhibit harmony in visuals, sound, and movement. We appreciate the beauty of the land, its flora and fauna, that the performers bring to life. These visual concepts work in tandem with the music. Quite beautiful vocals, in particular from Gerald Ramsey as Mufasa and Gugwana Dlaminni as Rafiki. Jaylen Hunter as Young Simba also had wonderful charisma. And I particularly enjoyed the lioness ensemble. 

This is the joy of art. We have a chance to view and encourage creativity and talent. And in so doing, to also reflect on our own lives and bring into our interpretations wherever it is that we are currently at in life. If The Lion King is about the intersection between the past and the present, then it gives us a chance to consider where we are, shall we say, in harmony with our past and where we are not. Or where we are in harmony with our current decisions and life choices and where we are not. We can't move backwards and we shouldn't live in the past--but we should be aware of how our past affects our present. And we should be aware of the repercussions of our current choices. 

This is a beautiful musical visually, but it also has that depth of theme. It may be a familiar story to most of us--but, after all, it grew to such popularity because of that very depth. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Hope and Identity in Paris

Hope and dreams. Hard work and goals. A break from the ordinary. Day in and day out. Is it one or the other? Or is it a balance of both? Can you even have the one, day in and day out, without the other, hope? What is even the goal, aspiration for higher things or contentment with the ordinary?

These are the questions that come up in the latest adaptation of Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris. This was my first experience with the story; I haven't seen any of the other films or read the book. On one level, the film is a simple diversion, a pretty story with characters that are pleasant to watch and views that are beautiful to behold. Yet it's also gently stirring in its themes and contemplations. 

Mrs. Harris is a woman who has kept hope. Years after the ending of the war, she has kept hope that perhaps her husband might still be alive out there somewhere. And when she comes up with the idea of buying a dress from Paris, she holds the hope that this is an attainable dream. She believes in beauty and goodness. Her ability to dream is what upholds her through all of the years of hard, daily work. 

Her dreams sometimes shatter. Reality breaks into them, and things don't always play out the way that she had pictured. But does that mean that her perspective is off? What about the other characters? 

Along the way, we see the rich and wealthy also pursuing their dreams. They dream of acceptance and status. Instead of picturing how they will enjoy the elegant dresses, many of them simply imagine what the dresses will make them into. The circles they will be accepted into or the impressions they will give. Mrs. Harris, on the other hand, wants to wear her dress to the same old local dance that she could go to in any dress she already owns. She doesn't want the dress to make her into a new person: she wants it to enjoy it. There is something to be said for having something to look forward to. 

So when she experiences rudeness at the house of Dior, or when the Marquis tells her that she reminds him of the maid at his boyhood school, nothing has changed. It's disappointment that taints her experience, but it is nothing different from the role she has had for years. She works as a cleaning lady, and that is the way in which she interacts with the world of her daily life--and it remains when she goes to Paris. The dress did not change that. But the difference between Mrs. Harris and some of the other characters is that she didn't need the dress to change her. 

She enjoyed the experience of visiting Paris, of meeting the people there, of seeing the work rooms, and of having her dress made. And she enjoys getting to finally wear a Dior dress to the local dance. But through it all, she remains herself. It's the perspective she brings that made it all magical. She was eager and friendly towards everyone she met and always hoped for good. She took delight in the new things she got to see, and she appreciated the craftsmanship and artistry in the dressmaking. And she loved the way in which she could hope for something special, a designer dress, and then see it become a reality. 

Hope keeps us alive in our daily lives. We hope not that a certain circumstance will change everything about our lives and who we are. We simply hope for having the experience. Because if we depend on a particular circumstance to change who we are, then, well, we are poorly off indeed. Joy and hope must be independent of circumstances, or they are truly no joy and hope after all. 

Thursday, July 14, 2022

A Storm of Turbulence or Renewal?

The wind now blows. It isn't like the monsoon seasons of years past, but a summer storm is still a summer storm. Air blowing tree limbs and sheets of dust. Clouds creating chaotic shapes across the sky. Color dancing between dark and light--between pink and blue. Light flashing on the horizon and thunderbolts stretching their fingers.

A good summer storm always once more puts me in the mood of Lucy Snowe in Villette: "It was wet, it was wild . . . I could not go in." (Charlotte Bronte) Nothing like a storm to take everything out of one's soul and pour it out into the landscape. Every burst of lightning is like one's own emotions playing out in visible tangibility. It's irresistible. But is the chaos of a storm good or ill? Is bursting out of one's skin a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, for Lucy Snowe it certainly felt like an encumbrance--and like an irresistible pleasure. She says she dreaded weather incidents like storms because of all that they stirred up within her. Yet when she's watching a storm, does she not look more alive? So was it indeed better for her to stay in the quiet calm, or to let the storm awaken her? 

Sometimes what can appear turbulent has its place in creating renewal. A summer storm can be incredibly violent. Clouds of dust fog the horizon. Tree limbs break off. Flash floods begin. But through it all, the earth is fed and regenerated. The storm that awakens the sleeping land ushers in a brand new day.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Red, White, and Blue

Red for pain, sorrow, and sacrifice.

White for hope.

Blue for respect and integrity. Reverence.

The world in which we live alternates between impossibly beautiful and impossibly terrible. We rejoice in and give thanks for the beauty. We mourn the terrible. Neither can extinguish the other so long as this world, in its present state, exists. Yet still we try, and it's the trying that makes the difference. To trade one moment of pain for one of joy. To shadow one terrible time with the memory of one beautiful time. To persevere. 

Taking moments to acknowledge the good and be glad for it have always been crucial towards safekeeping that good. That's why I find so much overlap between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. So this Independence Day, let's remember history but let's also be glad for what we have today that is good.