Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Hobbit Chronicles: Book 4

Click to view my thoughts on: Book 1, Book 2Book 3, and Smaug.

The fourth book in Weta's series, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Chronicles: Cloaks & Daggers, is also the heftiest. It comes in at about 250 pages, and what with the same longer size as the rest of the series, it's one heavy book. No, not the heaviest movie book in my collection, but still enough to be intimidating. I mean, much as I love to hear about moviemaking, there can come a point when you're overwhelmed. Yet I still enjoyed this book so much--I said before that Book 3 may have been my favorite, and now I want to give that title to this one. 

Like Book 3, Book 4 gives some focus to some of my favorite places, Lake-town and Beorn's home. But it also has an interesting approach to content. The subtitle is "Cloaks & Daggers," so there is quite a bit of attention to fabrics, materials, and building (which can mean building chairs, armor, clothing, and everything else). This book is all about the costumes, armor, props, and sets. Everything is in so much detail and all the crew express their ideas so well that I found myself getting lost in it all (in a good way). While everything they say and everything they did with their work was formed to help tell the story, their work has become a story in and of itself. The fascinating endeavors of this talented group of people had me very enthralled. That is, I was enthralled at my own pace since I did take some weeks to get through this book; it's just that there is so much in it to absorb. 

My pre-ordered copy was signed by Daniel Falconer, Kevin Smith, Daniel Reeve, and Ben Price.

Format-wise, there were helpful captions to the imagery this time. And the images were just as thorough as usual, with costumes and props and close-ups. All enough to keep you staring at one page for a long time. I didn't know I loved the weapons of Dale so much: I'm not usually as into the weapons (sorry), but those, those were gorgeous. Four books in, plus the Smaug book, and I'm feeling like I've had a window to peer in at a filmmaking family. Even if I didn't like how the movies turned out (which, as a whole, is certainly not true), I could still enjoy these books. They're everything.

Eclipse Chocolates: Drinking Chocolate & Truffles

That's it, I'm moving: there just aren't any chocolate shops where I live. Not only are there none in the area, but in the whole state (sort of). It's terrible. 

But I know, the lack of chocolate shops is just one of the prices I have to pay to live where it is beautiful. I know. And it's probably for the best, anyway: this way, chocolate remains special because it is more scarce. So any time that I go out of state, I try and look up chocolate shops around where I'll be. I usually try and visit at least one of them. So my "at least one" shop for the San Diego area was Eclipse Chocolate. I thought perhaps breakfast there would be nice since they also serve food, but that never happened. In addition to food, chocolate, desserts, hot chocolate, and tea, they also serve alcohol, so there is quite a variety of what they have on offer. It's nice to have options.

When I looked up the place, I saw that it was near Balboa Park, which is where the museums are. I thought, oh, good, it's near the fancy area. Well, the particular corner where the cafe is isn't particularly fancy--but the shop is nicely designed and very clean. With blue and white, it's made up to be a hip hangout spot. Since I went there after lunch, all I ordered was a drinking chocolate. And since it was after lunch, I went for a lighter milk chocolate versus something heavy and dark. The Cardamom Rose Milk Chocolate (with soy) was my choice. 

The good-sized white mug came with two fresh marshmallows. I pinched a taste because they were so pretty, but didn't eat them because I'm one of the people who don't really like marshmallows. The chocolate was good, and I was glad that I didn't order something dark because if it's dark, I prefer a much smaller serving. The rose gave it that soft, floral feeling, while the cardamom added a touch more spice and movement to keep it all from becoming cloying. All very pleasant for an afternoon drink. 

On the way out, I picked up two truffles and one chocolate bar. The bar I will save for a later post, but the truffles I will address now. The first was a champagne truffle, which I chose since it's a kind of must-have flavor. There may have been something more to the name, but I don't remember what it was. There is a dried cranberry on top, which I'm not sure I get, but the chocolate smells fragrant and the ganache looks smooth when you cut it open. 

The mouthfeel is also smooth without being plasticy; the flavor is rich and light at the same time. There are rich cocoa notes, possibly a hint of salt from the other truffle, and a berry-like flavor for a splash of color. It's a nice truffle, maybe not the best I've ever had but of course a thousand times better than mass-produced chocolates. 

The second truffle was the Lavender Sea Salt Caramel, which is a rectangular chocolate with sprinkled salt and lavender. I think it was available in milk and dark; I didn't specify which one I wanted, so I ended up with milk, which I think goes better with the caramel, anyway. As you can see, the caramel is semi-stiff, so it doesn't flow out on its own. While the lack of messiness is nice, I would have preferred a less chewy caramel: chewiness always feels less fancy to me. It does, however, taste nicely of vanilla and sugar and whatever else caramel is composed of. 

I'm starting to get tired of hearing of salted caramels because everyone does them, but the addition of lavender in this truffle makes it more unique and entertaining. Lavender does, after all, have a zing to it that is not entirely unlike the zing of salt. Now, the salt is still more prominent than the lavender (and it's delicious, flaky salt, by the way), but the lavender still adds some of its floral, citrus pop. I like this subtle addition to a popular chocolate flavor. 

Now that Eclipse Chocolate has passed the taste test, I can go on to praise their other aims. They work with Guittard Chocolate (which has long been one of my favorites) for ethically-source chocolate, they use organic ingredients when they can, they don't add vegetable fats to the chocolate, they produce their chocolates in small batches (as you can already tell), and they donate a portion of profits to charities. So, yes, Eclipse Chocolate has a lot going for them, and I am a bit jealous that California has places like this and Arizona, basically, does not.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gifts from the Doctor

That title sounds funny if you're not thinking of Doctor Who, doesn't it? But ever since I started watching, the phrase "the doctor" only reminds me of one character. Of course, the gifts I refer to come not specifically from the Doctor, but almost. The Hillywood Show has been shipping out the gift packages that went with donations to their Doctor Who Parody fund. Mine arrived this week.

I had kind of forgotten what my package included. I have an autographed photo, a thank you note (handwritten on the back), and a new wristband (I still have my thinner, white one from years ago). I think I have six autographed pictures now? Time to get another frame--and also time to watch the parody again:

What's more exciting is that these gifts come right before Season 8 of Doctor Who begins airing next week. This is the first time I'll be watching the episodes as they come out. I'm so very glad that they air on the same day in the U.S. as in the U.K. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Exploration of Chocolate

No, that is not a fancy title I made up for my rambling about chocolate discoveries. It is the name of a dessert I had while I was on vacation.

At the Omni La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California, there is a restaurant called BlueFire Grill. And when I went to this restaurant, I ordered a dessert called The Exploration of Chocolate. Pastry chef Jaimie Hileman oversees all of the desserts and baking at the resort. I thought that I would just peek at the dessert menu, but I ended up wanting to try everything on it. It all sounded like it had thought behind it, as much thought as went into the food. For me, a bad dessert can easily break my opinion of a restaurant--and it can be quite hard to find good dessert.

I was at first hesitant to choose the Exploration, despite the assumed great chocolate influence. My hesitation was based on one of three listed elements: white chocolate orange cake (unless it was lemon and I'm just remembering it as orange? I'm sure it was orange). I don't much like lemon or orange, even if they're combined with chocolate. But I was surprised to enjoy even this element of the mix.

Having brought with me only a small purse, I didn't see the need for my camera, so you'll have to make do with a hastily-snapped phone picture. The small squares of cake on the left and right are the orange cake. The snake in the middle is chocolate gianduja (basically creamy chocolate with hazelnut, if you're unfamiliar). The round spot on the top is a chocolate ice cream-like item; the white spot on the bottom is mint ice cream. The tiny circle over to the right above the spoons was vanilla. A couple of dots of raspberry, two pieces of wafer-like cookie, and two sprigs of mint complete it all. What this means is that there is a lot to look at and taste, but the plate isn't filled with a mound of sweets that can't be finished. This dessert is shareable, but doesn't have to be. I shared about half of the orange cake and some small tastes of the ice cream. 

Now let me move on to describe why I was utterly enthralled by this dessert. You know I enjoy hazelnut and chocolate together, so the gianduja (and its large size in comparison to some of the other elements) was a big win from the start. It's creamy and light, with the right cocoa and hazelnut flavors. The white chocolate orange cake even was pleasant. Soft cake in small, bite-size pieces isn't overwhelming, and the orange flavor added an almost floral kind of mellow sweetness to everything. The mint ice cream acted like a palette cleanser for whenever you needed to move between elements or just get a fresh, clear taste into your mouth. But that chocolate ice cream. I forget what the menu called it exactly, but ice cream doesn't describe it; I just don't know what other word to use. It was cold, but it was also dense and very, very soft. With a chocolate flavor neither sweet nor rich nor boring, it was hopelessly elegant. And that dot of vanilla? I don't know what that was, either: it was like a drop of pure vanilla flavor, such a wonderful companion to the other elements on the plate. 

Was I happy? Oh, yes. I would go so far as to call this one of the best desserts I've ever had. Admittedly, I don't often get to go to restaurants where they would have amazing desserts, but that fact doesn't diminish the worthiness of this one. It was also the perfect thing for after dinner. Sometimes, even a good dessert is difficult to finish or enjoy right after you've eaten. But this one was the right size to not be overwhelming. And while all of the flavors were entrancing, none of them were overly rich or overly sweet. It was all in perfect balance. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Keychain Productions & Wireless

So I was on vacation. I'm back now; hello, world. And one of the things I came back to was the long-awaited, newest video from Keychain Productions. This is the first episode of the web series Wireless, in which previous Primeval actors Andrew Lee Potts and Lucy Brown are reunited. I do love reminders of Primeval. Written by Alex Moss and directed by Andrew Lee Potts, Wireless has that signature style we've become familiar with from Keychain, along with something more. 

I can't approach a Keychain film without addressing color. From the calm yellow at the start, the green in the opening scene, and the blue in the car to the pops of red, it is all very intriguing. Given that, plot-wise, this pilot episode seems to just be setting the scene, I'm looking to the colors for foreshadowing. In the night vision scenes, the red looks ominous and dangerous--but by the time we enter the car, it looks more glowing, like beating hearts. The red glows on the car seat headrests, as if standing in for the computer voice and the two people who have access to the car's camera feed. It's like we aren't just watching one person in the car: we're watching all four. 

Appreciation must also go to the cinematography here. Most of the ten minute episode takes place in the car, and in the front of the car, at that. Yet the camera moves around enough and with enough thought that I didn't get bored and always felt like there was something new to consider. This, in turn, brings us to the dialogue. All that hilarious, wonderful dialogue. I had thought that what I enjoyed most about Keychain films was their exploration of emotion through a thoughtful lens of color, but so far Wireless takes that thoughtful exploration and combines it with all the comedy of a Keychain vlog. I'm curious about the plot, but I also simply enjoyed sitting with the fun of the scene. 

We'll all be excitedly awaiting new episodes. Thank you, Keychain team, for the new videos. And for everyone reading, this is a fan-funded series, so please donate if you can:

(Side note: I keep a couple of my Little Links buttons clipped onto my suitcases. I find it fitting that I was carting them around California the very week that Keychain Productions released a new video.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ciao Bella: Dark Chocolate Gelato

You know how it is, when you decide to go outside and sunbathe for just a few minutes, you turn on some music, and then three songs in your iPhone stops playing and says to please let it cool down before trying to use it. Oops. If the iPhone's too hot, maybe it's too hot for me, too? Nah, I'll stay out a few more minutes, anyway. And I did. 

Then I thought I'd do something more typically summery than sitting out in the too-hot weather. Ice cream is summery, right? Time to bring out that container of Ciao Bella Dark Chocolate Gelato again.

The problem is, I don't like ice cream that much. I'll enjoy a little if I'm eating it, but I don't crave it and I don't eat it by the bucket. Then again, I tend to buy the smaller, more expensive ice creams, and it's the big tubs of cheap stuff that have that addicting quality like fast food, isn't it? However the case, I opened this little Dark Chocolate container before and had some, then left it in the freezer without taking any pictures--or without finishing the gelato before it started to crystallize. As you can tell by the picture I finally took.

So in my weirdness, I have mixed commentary to give. One, I appreciate that Ciao Bella used Fair Trade cocoa in this gelato; they also use organic cane sugar. As far as you can tell from an ingredients list, the ingredients look pretty pure. That's always good to know. If you look at the little "story" on the back, you will also find that the chocolate used (both chocolate and cocoa powder are added) is from TCHO. That's how Ciao Bella can get fair trade and organic chocolate for their gelato: they get it from a chocolatier. I've seen TCHO around, but haven't tried a huge amount of their chocolate; mainly I think I've dismissed it as probably good quality but not particularly interesting to me personally.

Now we come to the reason why I think this gelato is good but don't like it that much. It tastes like dark chocolate. When it melts, the melting of cold gelato into room temperature mimics the melting of room temperature chocolate to body temperature. It's a great analogy of a melting mouthful of chocolate--except that the temperature is off and I can't get over that fact. I like the temperature of chocolate, not the coldness of the gelato. When I eat ice cream, usually what I enjoy best is a good quality, plain, vanilla ice cream; to me, that's the flavor that goes best with the temperature and texture.

So this gelato is not for me. But if you are looking for a dark chocolate gelato that tastes of real chocolate and has real ingredients, here it is. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

July Favorites

1) Perfume Notepad - I had this notepad sitting in a box for so long that I am no longer certain where I bought it. Finally I've put it out on my desk to look pretty, deciding that I'll use it whenever I need to scribble down any quick notes. If we don't use our pretty things, then what's the point?

2) Honeydew Cactus Soap - My obligatory Anthropologie item of the month is a little green-wrapped soap that I thought smelled delicious. Sorry, local soap, I love you very much, but sometimes I just have to get Anthropologie soap, too.

3) The Republic of Tea - Vanilla Almond Tea - What with yerba maté in the morning and often green tea in the afternoon, it was seeming like I wasn't getting much black tea. I was starting to miss it, and remembering how nice vanilla is with black tea, I picked up this one. It's a nice blend of robust with a slight sweetness. Plus, there are 50 tea bags jammed in the tube, which means it's well worth the $11.

4) Green Leather Bible - When I graduated from my children's Bible, I just got a $10 bonded leather Bible that I never was overly fond of, design-wise. Problem is, I like the New King James version and the Bibles with colors or designs are usually a different version. So when I found a KJV that is a nice small size (it's also supposedly large print, so the text isn't microscopic) and a very me shade of green leather, I couldn't pass it up.

5) Tropical Necco Wafers - I love regular Necco Wafers (except for the licorice flavor), so why not try the Tropical version, too? These are even weirder than the original ones. Strawberry, banana, and mango were good, but I didn't care for coconut, passion fruit, or lime (although, admittedly, I almost never like coconut or passion fruit). However, I did devour the whole roll at my desk before I ever had a chance to take a picture.

6) The Complete Poems of John Keats - From time to time I renew my slight obsession with John Keats. This time, I thought I ought to have a good Keats anthology; this one's from Modern Library. Eventually I'd like to read it all, but I'm in no hurry: it's nice to just drink in the beauty of a few lines. I just keep rereading "Bright Star" and the first stanza of "Endymion."

7) L'Abeille Occitane Miel de Lavande - I didn't buy this myself, but I sure am eating it all as if I picked it out. It had been a while since I'd had what I call spreadable honey and the creamy rich deliciousness of it has me in love again. The added floral bit of the lavender only makes it all the better.

8) Green Scarf - Another item I didn't choose for myself. See the color green? People know me so well, I suppose. With the happy color and the loose lace, I think it's something I can start wearing now while it's still warm weather.

9) The Mill - In the search for new things to watch, the first season of The Mill came around (the second season is airing in the UK right now, but who knows how long it'll be until we get it over here). Overall, it's an interesting show, and I like that it's 19th century without being based on a 19th century novel (I mean, Oliver Twist is great and all, but why do we need a new version at least every decade).

10) Dinosaur Pin - If I have dinosaur necklaces, why not a pin? It was an antique store find, so I have no idea when or by whom it was made--and that's why I like it. With its silver color and angry face, it's just a random and unique piece, and that's a must for every outfit.