Saturday, August 27, 2022

Theo: Cookie Bites

We have some more casual chocolate candy today. Although they're still fairly new, I finally spotted Theo's less-than-brand-new cookie bites at my store recently. So here we have the Double Chocolate Cookie Bites and the Mint Chocolate Cookie Bites. The third flavor, Snickerdoodle, which I did not see, was probably the one I was most excited about. Maybe it'll turn up later; I don't think I would go out of my way to track it down. 

Theo is like a small batch chocolate maker with mainstream access and appeal. Their quality is good and simple, their chocolate bars are easy to find, and their prices are comparatively low. So it is with mixed feelings that I approach this new product. On the one hand, it's exciting: I keep advocating for better quality, candy tier options in the chocolate world. On the other, making mass-produced candies with a long shelf life is a deliberate, non-artisan-type choice. But I like Theo, so if someone is going to be making such products, it might as well be Theo, right?

The resealable bags come with a standard look similar to Theo's chocolate bar. A cream background is accented by either cranberry or green color. Not too many different colors or images going on, and the descriptions and logos are kept compact enough to not be too chaotic. 

Though they're not particularly exciting to look at, you will want to notice that the cookie bites are not covered in layers of shellac like similar products tend to be. So that's an immediate plus. The Double Chocolate bag opens up to the aroma of chocolate and cookie dough. I'm not sure how they manage that. Because it's more solid than I'd expected, the crunch of the bites is more like a crunchy cookie than soft, raw cookie dough. But it's a pleasant crunch that still has a light feel to it and helps to keep you eating more. Or is that just me? I do love crunching. 

Flavor-wise, the chocolate comes first. It's a 55% dark chocolate, so it's a standard, slightly sweet dark chocolate. Not overly sweet because, again, it's Theo. But properly sweet for a product like this: it's a lot like semisweet chocolate chips. The cookie dough flavor comes quickly in, as well, along with salt. Actually, it's quite heavy on the salt. I'm not complaining; most of us like salt. And the salt goes well with that crunchy texture. I'm not really a cookie dough person (so I will fully disclose that this product was not made with me in mind), but it's a good cookie dough flavor, as cookie dough goes. It somehow has that "raw" flavor that makes it distinctively dough and not just cookie bites. I can't compare them to the standard Cookie Dough Bites candy because I've never had them, but the ingredients are certainly much better.

Peppermint oil makes the bag of Mint Chocolate smell of Andes Mints and Thin Mint Cookies. In fact, if you happen to still like the idea of Thin Mints but you've outgrown the flavor of all that oil, these are a great alternative. The familiar peppermint overpowers the cookie dough flavors, so you're mainly just getting peppermint, sweet dark chocolate, and crunchy cookie texture. This is what I think Thin Mints taste like--until I taste one and realize it just doesn't match what's in my head. (Sorry, the Girl Scouts don't tempt me when they're out selling cookies. They really are very cheap cookies.) That isn't to say that these are the best mint chocolate I've ever had. No, they're still just chocolate candy. But they are a good example of what they set out to be.

Another thing I like about Theo is that they don't make a big deal about their ingredients--and yet their ingredients are better than some of the other "alternative" chocolate candies out there. The front of the bag just mentions organic and fair trade. The descriptions on the back just talk about the flavor. But when you look at the ingredients list, you'll see no palm oil and no artificial colors or flavors. There are also no eggs or milk either if anybody was interested in that. There is sunflower oil--but it's for the cookie part, not the chocolate. This is how candy ought to be. There's sugar, but the sugar and the sunflower oil are the closest to junk ingredients that it gets. Which means that, if you're into this style of candy, these are a great alternative option. They have better ingredients and yet still satisfy that specific candy craving.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Whispers from a Fish

"I don't like Asian food." 

Okay, I'm sorry. I was overgeneralizing when I said I didn't like Asian food. By that standard, I don't like any type of food. I'm going to be picky--or as someone once kindly said, selective--wherever I go. But that doesn't mean I need to generalize against entire continents of food. Noodles and veggies, I can eat that. It's the seasoning and sauces that tend to be too much for me. But I can handle a bit--and there is such thing as growing accustomed to certain types of food, as well. 

Well, when they sucked me into a Thai restaurant, I played it safe and got a Chinese dish. (And found it funny that I was the only one who said I like Indian food when everyone else thought that Indian food was too much. Strange.) I somehow survived going for sushi by getting a veggie roll and potstickers. And then a Korean place (the H Mart food court) was next. What do you do when in the face of a million dishes you've never even heard of, most of which contain ingredients you don't even like to eat? 

Ah, well, I have a hard time choosing, anyway. So this just narrowed it down to me. Which dishes are made with chicken? Very narrow selection. Which doesn't sound too scary but also sounds like something that is specifically Korean, that I would only be able to get here? So I made a choice--and it was fine. I don't know that I'll crave it, but I could eat it again. So why my fear, why my overgeneralization about not liking Asian food? I coaxed myself in and realized I can find something to eat in most places where I go. I dived into the ocean and came back up to the surface. 

I dived in just like this little fish friend here. I'll have to hand it to Koreans, their golden fish breads are unmistakably cute. Though turkeys are my animal of choice, I do get excited over fish-shaped things, too. And I much prefer the Korean fish dessert to their savory fish cake (which, okay, I tried, but I failed to see why I would want to sprinkle potent fish onto my food--don't we in the Western world usually cook fish in ways to make it less fishy, rather than trying to make non-fish foods taste like fish?) The bread was nice and warm, filled with your choice of filling. I went boring with custard because that sounded like a safe option. I don't think I care for red bean (I'm from the Southwest, not the South--beans shouldn't be sweet). So the fish bread was a nice, pleasant dessert.

And then there was the rose lychee milk tea. It also comes in just rose, rather than rose with lychee. I was overjoyed that the rose flavor was nice and strong. I do love rose, as I've said before. I would go back just to get this drink. I suppose I did also try a bit of a beautiful matcha and taro ice cream. Maybe I wouldn't mind getting more matcha ice cream. I don't crave ice cream often, but I might be more inclined to crave matcha ice cream. 

So maybe the dessert is where it's at for me. I guess that's what comes from poking around and trying something new. Don't be so quick to generalize (I'm sorry, I'm sorry, black and white thinking just comes so easily to me sometimes) because you never know what you might find. At the very least, maybe you'll find some fish bread. 

Monday, August 22, 2022

Syntax & Personal Expression

Syntax is a way of telling during what period of time a piece was written. I remember someone in middle school pointing out how long a sentence was in something they were reading--it went all the way from one page to the other. If you write a sentence that long today, you'll be told it's a run-on sentence and you'd better shorten it. (You'll also be told to avoid passive voice, but if passive voice is so common in other languages, why do you need to always avoid it in English? Just because active versus passive is better in some cases doesn't have to mean you should always avoid it.)

I never particularly cared about being a stickler over grammar rules and such. This is why I would specify that my area of study is literature, not linguistics. Therefore it is tone and expression that matter most. For instance, if I'm writing something formal, I'll use "whom." But I usually don't use it in speaking because it just sets up a certain tone that isn't quite how I normally want to present myself. On the other hand, when people overcorrect and use "I" instead of "me," that bothers me. That isn't choosing to ignore the grammar rule in favor of common speech; that's trying to follow a rule and not doing so correctly and therefore not falling into either the camp of using proper grammar or of choosing to talk like a regular person instead. (This is not to say that I know all the rules, either. I know I definitely don't always follow all of them, even when intending to. And yes, that was an incorrect way to end a sentence.)

This tangent about grammar brings me back around to syntax because of what I notice about longer sentence structures. There are in fact a lot of long sentences (often run-ons) that go along with the regular way that people speak. Most of us don't speak in complete sentences and paragraphs when we talk in casual conversations. But even more formal settings, like lectures, don't always follow this format. A completely scripted speech will, but I'm referring to instances in which a speaker has prepared what he's going to say in general but not necessarily every sentence. Dashes and parentheses are common in this type of speaking. That is, long, possibly run-on sentences and sentences that otherwise drag on quite a bit. 

In written text, long sentences seem often to go along not just with older texts but also with more complex ones. You need more than just a subject and a verb in a sentence in order to express more complicated ideas. Pick up a modern, mainstream novel. How many semicolons or colons can you find? Probably not many. But look at a more intellectual text, and there will probably be plenty.

So if long sentences are often related to either common speech (which is reality) or to intellectual content, then why should we avoid them? If you can make a sentence that's half a page long and is punctuated correctly and expresses a complete thought, then what's wrong with that? If we're all trying to follow the same set of editing recommendations, personal expression goes out the window, as does the ability to think and then to convey an original thought. Sometimes expression is better when it isn't perfect. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Little Secrets: Nougat + Salted Caramel Creamy Nougat Bars

I have mixed feelings about Little Secrets. In the past, I've shown a preference for the their chocolate pieces versus the crispy wafers and the cookie bars (aka. the M&M's versus the KitKats and Twix). Today's product, the Nougat + Salted Caramel Creamy Nougat Bars in Dark Chocolate, are obviously modeled after (American) Milky Way bars. 

I know they were trying to cram in as many appetizing words as possible, but perhaps they could have come up with a shorter name? Or did they just assume people would say, can you buy some of the Milky Way Little Secrets candy from the store, as opposed to, could you get me some of those Nougat and Salted Caramel Creamy Nougat Bars in Dark Chocolate? They managed to find short, knock-off names for the other products, so why not for this one?

As per usual with Little Secrets, the style of the packaging is basic to have wide appeal. Bold green can mean marketing towards children--but it also works for adults. The look is casual because this is just candy, but it's also a fairly clean look without a lot of words or graphics going on. I was a little disappointed to find that there are only five mini bars inside the bag. At 22 grams each, they are a little bigger than most fun size candy bars, but after buying a whole bag I was expecting more. (No, I didn't look to see how many were in it before buying. I was going to want them to review, anyway, so I saved my analysis for later.)

The individual packaging is more chaotic--a little less decisive about what angle it wants to take. The white background is more neutral, but there are a lot of words crammed onto the small wrappers. I'm guessing that the discussion/thought bubbles in the background are meant to look trendy and hip, but they just add to the chaos. Something simpler and more distinguishable would have worked better.

Unsurprisingly since this is candy, the chocolate is a fairly light color for being dark chocolate. It's probably just a breath away from being milk chocolate. And without milk to bulk out that percentage, we know it still has plenty of sugar in it. So I really don't care about the claims that these have 30% less sugar than the leading nougat bar. I can monitor my own intake of sugar. If something has more, then I eat less of it. Tangents.

As you can tell from the picture, the caramel is thicker in proportion than it is in the picture on the packaging. And given that it's quite a dense and chewy caramel (dare I say it it even gets close to the caramel in Rolos?), the texture here is much stiffer and stickier than I remember Milky Ways being. It's difficult to get any of the nougat on its own, but when I attempt to, it does appear to have more substance than the standard type. It's more flavorful and a tad chewier, less airy. So it probably also contributes to the denser, chewier texture. This isn't necessarily a bad thing--and of course most people probably aren't analyzing candy this much. While the stiffer texture of the crispy wafers was too much to satisfy a KitKat craving, this one would work well enough as a Milky Way replacement. 

As far as the dark chocolate, it doesn't make much difference to me. It's a sweeter type of dark chocolate to fit the scene, and it is only a small contribution to the overall flavor. The caramel and nougat take the front seat. I don't see what they mean about salted caramel, other than trying to make it sound cool and trendy and more "adult." I don't taste any particular salt. 

Little Secrets makes a big deal about having better ingredients than other chocolate candy. I appreciate some attempt at fair trade cocoa. And their palm oil is marked as being sustainably sourced. I'd prefer not to have palm oil at all--but it's hard to create that familiar chocolate candy without the familiar palm oil, butterfat, and glucose syrup, isn't it? Not having corn syrup is nice. Unless I'm mistaken, Milky Way has egg whites, and this version does not. Including them probably would have made the nougat fluffier, though the inclusion of cocoa in the nougat itself does contribute to its stronger flavor. I guess I still feel like the real little secret is that these might be a step up from standard candy bars--but that's a low level to beat, which means that these still aren't too much to boast of. Again, not that I necessarily mind. It's candy. I can monitor my own candy intake. If it's a little cleaner, I'll avoid it a little less. And I'll let it fill that sugar void every so often when the sugar worms make their demands.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Present, Past, and Future

"The past steps on the heels of the present, whether you like it or not," exclaims Sarah in Sarah, Plain and Tall. She is, of course, referring to how Jacob must deal with his past in order to move forward in his present. By trying to bury the past, he is actually clinging onto it. Sarah helps him to reconnect with his memories of the past and to remember their joys so that he can no longer be burdened by their pain. So that his children, too, can have the wholeness of being able to remember their mother even though she is gone.

The present is where we live now. And the future is for what we plan. The past, then, is what influences our present--and our future, too, I suppose, in so far as the actions we choose in the present affect our future. So it is interesting when we hear the warning not to live in the past. This is true: the only place we can actually live is the present, so it's best that we accept that. But a healthy relationship with the past includes an understanding of how the past affects the present, no?

In our example above, Jacob had fond memories of his wife. Anna had fond memories of her mother. And those were good things--things that could help inspire their characters in a positive way in the present. Anna, in particular, receives great comfort at being able to remember the mother she lost when she was so young. Being able to talk about what she does remember gives her stability in her present. She knows that loss can happen in the blink of an eye again, but she also knows that nothing can take away the good memories she cherishes with those she loves.

It follows in all sorts of ways--that concept of the past's influence on the present. A doctor is able to perform his role because of the time he spent in the past in school and in his residency. A child works to get a good grade because he knows from the past that his parents celebrate with him when he does. That's the past, present, and future all entangled into one. You see, it's learning from our past that teaches us to consider our future in the actions we take in the present. That's The Lion King, isn't it? Rafiki hitting Simba with his staff to show him that the past can still hurt but we can choose to learn from it--thereby prompting Simba to take action and return home to heal the wounds of the past. 

The only place where we can live is the present. And yet it is all quite a tangled web with the past and future, anyway, isn't it? 

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Turkeys Lurking in the Desert

What marks out the Promenade at Scottsdale is The Spire--that great, big, green-blue, poky sword thing reaching into the sky. It may be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, but it is quite odd--and it stands rather in contrast to the general, softer, desert palette of Scottsdale. It doesn't even seem odd in the usual Frank Lloyd Wright way. No doubt this is because he didn't actually design it for this spot, and it was only built based around his design after his death. Turns out there is a long history behind the green, light-up, dragon tail sword sitting in the middle of North Scottsdale. 

But I'm not really here to talk about the green sword today. Because you know what you'll find if you wander by foot through the shopping area? A turkey.

Ah, yes, a turkey. It puts me in mind of that wonderful little ditty in A Winnie the Pooh Thanksgiving (which I am still waiting to see come up for streaming or on DVD or something). "A turkey may be lurking," sings Pooh as he and Piglet set out to hunt a fierce turkey for their Thanksgiving gathering. (At least said ditty is still discoverable through the magic of the Internet.) This turkey is not fierce, but it is big and grand. It is not the only animal surrounding the central fountain--and their lifelike designs are in direct contrast to the poky, green sword across the way.

For all that Frank Lloyd Wright's intentions in design included harmony with nature, as the use of his design now stands, the turkey feels much more harmonious with nature to me today. When buildings and streets and cement have overtaken so much of the land and the only plants left are the ones that are brought in and corralled into pre-approved spaces, a simple turkey or a crow in flight are a welcome find--even if they are not as alive as they appear. 

So take a moment to look beyond the glowing green giant spires. Turn into a quiet corner: you never know where a turkey may be lurking.