Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chocolate Santander: Columbian Single Origin 70% Dark

Sometimes I'm caught in the middle, caught in between appreciation and apathy. Sometimes I expect, all along, to be caught in the middle.

Chocolate Santander sounds very familiar to me, but I don't believe I've ever tasted any of their products. After finding the same offerings from Lindt, Ghirardelli, Chuao, Kinder, and the store brand at World Market, I noted Chocolate Santander in a display; here was something different. But something good or not? The packaging is ambiguous. It's plain, tasteful but not quite as polished as some brands; it looks just a step above grocery store chocolate's packaging. Yet still there are things to note from the outside. 


One, we have both the cacao percentage (70%) and the origin (Columbia) listed; yes, those are elements listed more and more frequently these days, but it remains a good sign. Two, there is a "Committed to Farmers" label; when a company works with the farmers, that's generally a sign that they're investing enough in one aspect of quality that they probably also are in all aspects. Three, I believe this chocolate is not only grown in Columbia but made there, as well. 


The chocolate bar (which is darker and less red in color than it appears in the pictures) is smooth, divided into eight squares. It's kind of elegant. A clean break on the chocolate reveals a texture in the mouth that is as much as smooth as the appearance. It's so very smooth that I want to call it too smooth, yet it's a different smoothness to the plasticy, over-smooth kind of cheap chocolate. I think they must just give this chocolate a very long conching time. 


At first, I thought the chocolate was without much dimension; I thought it was too sweet and flat for a 70%. But then I tasted again later and again later, and I think I may have changed my mind. The flavor notes do have a bit of redness to them, more fruity than floral, I think, though perhaps not any citrus. There is the slightest, slightest bitter tang in there, and the aftertaste is much like that thick taste your mouth gets after drinking coffee. The first half of the chocolate reminds me of the Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Lover's Bar in its coolness of flavor and perhaps also in the pace of its melting. 

Being $4 for a 70 gram bar, I would call its price average. I'm still not sure what I think, though. I suppose I like it. I suppose there are other chocolates that I like more. But Chocolate Santander seems to have a good practice of chocolate production going on, and I could definitely recommend this bar if you want a nice and simple, smooth dark chocolate. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Movie Adaptations Are Fast-Forward Buttons

I've become less interested in book to movie adaptations over the years--even though it's become a generic mark of a book's success if it's turned into a movie (though, really, a lot of bad books that everyone quickly forgets have been turned into mediocre movies, while a lot of good books that people still read haven't been turned into movies). You know what movies made from books are like? Fast-forward buttons.

You use a fast-forward button to skip over the things you're not too interested in, bringing in the focus on what you do like. Obviously, nearly all movies made out of books just don't have the time to include everything from the book. So what gets cut out? The things deemed less worthy--or boring. Scenes where nothing happens, scenes with lots of walking, scenes set at a slower pace. Side characters. Minor plot elements. What gets kept, or even put into a more central position? The things deemed to be exciting and visual and well-paced. Action. Fighting. Conflict.

The amount of battle-ness (as a percentage of the whole) in 2005's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and then also in Prince Caspian always kind of bothered me. Yes, they're short books, but the battles only take up a couple of pages, which is a much smaller percentage of the whole than what the movie gives them. So why do you have to rush through, say, the time spent with the Beavers (don't let me get into my complaints about how they put them together in the movie) so that you can have time for a long battle? If you don't spend enough time on character, plot, and symbolism, then battles and action become meaningless.

Movies are fast-forward buttons. If a director wants to fast-forward through the bits he thinks are boring to get to the exciting bits, he can. That reminds me of what Peter Jackson said about The Two Towers; he said that he rather liked the idea that Treebeard made people bored or put them to sleep (or roughly the same). You know what's so fantastic about that, as far as adaptations go? That's the director saying, I know this part can be sluggish to get through, but that's the way it's supposed to be and I don't feel insecure enough to be pressured to do it differently. (Because goodness knows, PJ still made time for the long battles.)

If a movie fast-forwards through what the director doesn't like or understand, then no wonder a director must fully appreciate the book in order to make a half-decent adaptation out of it. Because if you fast-forward through the wrong things, what you are left with will be unrecognizable and will become its own, completely separate work. And then what is the point in even basing the movie on that particular book, anyway?

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Coming of the Rains

The rains have come. We call it monsoon season. It means that even if there are hours in a day with broad sunlight, there are also hours with clouds upon clouds. And in the afternoon or evening, there is rain. Sometimes there is a patch of sky with the brightest summer sunlight, and deep dark clouds right beside it. Sometimes it's sunny while it's raining. Sometimes the sky pours out like an overturned bucket, so hard, so briefly, and then the sun comes back out and pretends like nothing happened.

It's raining now. The morning was half cloudy, around a hundred degrees, kinda nice out. At lunch, I saw the clouds gathering more solidly on the horizon. Now they are covering the sky in white-grey, the thunder is pounding, the trees are swaying in the wind, and the rain is falling at a thick and steady pace. I'm hoping the power doesn't go out. The power tends to go out almost daily during monsoon season. It's just a question of when and for how long.

I'm thinking of rain in fiction. In the badly animated version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that I grew up with, it's raining when the Pevensies are at the professor's house (well, it is in the book, too, but it's more visual in the movie). Rain there represents boredom--but also what drives them to try something new: playing indoors is what drives them all to the wardrobe and to Narnia.

In The Lion King, rain is the soothing cleansing that ushers in healing and a new day. Rain washes away the hurts of Scar's reign and feeds the plants so that everything can grow and blossom again. Because of rain, the land can turn lush once more and its people (or animals, as the case may be) can feel alive again.

But what if we combined both of these examples? Let's go to The Fellowship of the Ring. It is raining while the hobbits are staying at Tom Bombadil's house, and I think that rain always helped to enhance the dreamlike state of their time there. It's like the rain creates its own world that it encloses you into. (Goodness. There was just a very loud crack of thunder and this lightning is flashing like the lights at a pop rock concert. And that bolt looked like it was just a small walk from my window. It probably was.) The hobbits do find healing from this rain: it represents a period of rest from their journey. But it also has a quietness, like in the Narnia example--and it is also a kind of gateway. After passing Tom Bombadil's house, they reach Bree and the lands outside of the Shire, which might as well be a different world to them.

Maybe rain represents passage into somewhere new because rain itself is a traveler. It travels from the sky, down through the air, to the earth. From there it rises up again, lingers in the clouds, and comes back down. It's always on the move, always going to a new place, always seeing something new.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Jedi Doth Return Most Heartily

What fun this has been. Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's Star Wars trilogy has, I think, enchanted us all. I enjoyed the first book as new and so very right, and I thought the second was even better. And now we come to The Jedi Doth Return. From an early age, I had a soft spot for The Return of the Jedi, so I was thrilled to learn that Ian Doescher is the same--I, however, did not learn this until after I had finished his wonderment of a book and come to the Afterword. 


Everything I loved about the first two books was in this one. The flawless combination of Star Wars plots with Shakespearean flavor, the familiar dialogue blended with the bard's style, the direct references to quotes in the plays, all of that. But it all felt amplified this time. The Return of the Jedi is wonderfully dramatic, and the text in The Jedi Doth Return elevates every stick of drama into a cascade of powerful emotions and characterization. I particularly enjoyed the Hamlet references, since (although I claim not to care much for Sheakespeare) I also have a soft spot for that play. The Jedi sing thee line is gorgeous. 

Be thou assured, however, that there is lightness, as well. The line where Luke comments about Leia's slave outfit in Jabba's Palace, that one made me laugh out loud as I read--and I don't often do that. There's fun even among all the tragedy. So, yes, my last words are, I loved William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Vintage Plantations: Rice Milk

You know, I'm sure, that chocolate has a long shelf life. So when you buy a chocolate bar whose expiration date is two months away, you know that it has been sitting on the shelf for a very long time. And you pity the lonely chocolate. 

I am speaking of the Rice Milk bar from Vintage Plantations, for yes, I did enjoy their 90% bar enough that I picked up another of their products the next time I was near the same candy store. I looked past the flavored bars and thought that milk chocolate would be good this time--except that this almost is a flavored bar. It is milk chocolate made with rice milk powder instead of regular milk products. Naturally, then, the rice does add its own flavor. 


As you can see, the poor chocolate does look like it's close approaching its due date. The fine face is turning white. And alas, the mouthfeel is poor. I do believe this is due to the chocolate's age and not to VP's chocolate processing methods. And if that is true, then I am all the more sad for this chocolate because, let me tell you, it smells delicious. Red and warm like rich fudge and chocolate come together, almost nutty from the rice, and just slightly sweet. It smells like a very deep milk chocolate, maybe a 46% cacao. But the thing is, I think this must be a very light milk chocolate. There is no mention of the cocoa percentage, but the only added chocolate product is cocoa butter. 


Let me try to ignore the loose texture that doesn't come together in a single melting the way chocolate, under the right circumstances, does. Let's move over to flavor instead. For all my comments about the light cocoa percentage, I get a taste of cocoa nibs that usually only comes with very dark chocolate. You know, that cool blue taste that sometimes flirts with bitterness. But it isn't bitter at all here, just unexpected. Then you get in the sweetness of the sugar and vanilla. And there is the distinctive rice taste, familiar to anyone who has ever had rice milk. Or horchata. I find myself thinking of horchata after the chocolate melts; I can just picture a hint of cinnamon added in. It's a warm finish, very comforting.

I don't think I've ever had chocolate like this. It's sweet milk chocolate with every bit of cloying, greasy nonsense taken away until all you have is tender chocolate with warm flavor accents. It has as much depth as dark chocolate--well, it has even more depth than some dark chocolates. For something unique and yet also simple, this is a lovely bar of chocolate. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Beowulf & Beewolf

I know, I know, I was so excited about Tolkien's translation of Beowulf being published and then it took me over a month to get through it. But you know, for being a translation of what is not a hugely long poem, this is a thick volume. It's over 400 pages, being composed of: the Preface, the Introduction to the Translation, the translation itself, Notes on the text of the Translation, Introductory note to the Commentary, Commentary, Sellic Spell, and The Lay of Beowulf. It isn't just one read: it's a lot of material. 


I've found that what interested me most when I moved through everything was not the translation. The three times that I read Beowulf in college, it was Seamus Heaney's version--and I think that one was, in a way, a more pleasant read than Tolkien's. But, of course, Tolkien never published his translation--and he did most of it when he was still fairly young; so, as Christopher Tolkien constantly asserts, you can't just look at it on its own. What I enjoyed most was finding parallels to his Middle-earth writings, whether in content, approach, or language. And it was a change from Heaney's version to see how Tolkien wrote in prose while still maintaining something of the beat or flow of words from the old manuscript. Anyway.

I didn't read all of the commentary. Sorry, I'm still enjoying being out of school so I didn't quite feel like going through all of it--plus, I never studied Old English, so much of the material regarding the translation is sort of beyond my scope. But when I got over to Sellic Spell towards the end, oh, that was when I got happy. Sellic Spell was Tolkien's way of imagining what the Beowulf story would have been like closer to its original form, back when it was still a folk tale. It's about 26 pages of straightforward language, and it is fantastic. 

Sellic Spell concisely brings in the significant portions of Beowulf's story. Beowulf (renamed Beewolf) becomes a hero all over again, someone admirable and courageous and strong and noble. The action becomes perilous and exciting. The monsters, they're good. And if your interest is in crossovers with Middle-earth, you'll find some. The inklings of Theoden and Rohan and Eowyn, Wormtongue and Gollum and the Black Riders, Aragorn in his isolation and in all his glory. Oh, yes, and then there is The Lay of Beowulf. The two poems bring back memories of Tolkien's poems about Nimrodel and Amroth, Gil-galad, and the others. My college professor who taught the Beowulf and Lord of the Rings classes must be having a field day.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

American Favorites

I've done lists before; this year, let's go on a journey. I'm going to take you on a trip through the America of my mind. Where we'll begin and end I don't really know, and what we meet along the way will be an adventure.

California. The place everyone wants to visit, some to live in. That's where I started, in the heart of it all. The Hollywood sign was just something that sat on the mountain that I saw all the time. Griffith Observatory, the Natural History Museum, the Arboretum, the Huntington Library, the beach--they were all there within my grasp. Oh, yes, and Disneyland. Disneyland was born into my blood.

From California the great to Alaska the magnificent, where I played in the snow and a treehouse built high up. Where my family went fishing and I threw my pole into the water because I was too young to quite understand how fishing worked. Where everything was different, where I laughed because it couldn't be bedtime yet because the sun was still out.

More California--where I spent afternoons watching I Love Lucy and The Andy Griffith Show--but also my first trip to Arizona. It was new. It was hot and devoid of the cities I was used to--but it had new things. Exciting things. I saw the Grand Canyon. I visited chickens. I watched the stars and traced the horizon across the mountains. And then the summer trips here stopped and we came here to live. After living in an apartment, we had a yard again. Open space to play in. I read Little House on the Prairie and watched the show, too.

The Red Rocks of Sedona are beautiful and the historic downtown Prescott a lovely place for a cool afternoon. The Painted Desert spoke always to me, from when I first heard its name in fourth grade. When we finally made the drive years later, I fell in love with the soft land, layers of colorful dirt forming hills that no picture can capture. Google Image the Painted Desert and you will not see it: it is too beautiful to exist in a photograph.

I discovered Get Smart and I Dream of Jeannie, listened to Blondfire and Flyleaf, and whiled away the evenings with Once Upon a Time. I vacationed in New Mexico and breathed in the cooler, still warm air. Drifted across the wide lands of colorful earth and soft plants, visiting museums and old homes, places where people had lived who loved this land. Acoma lived up to its name of Sky City, built up high to look out upon the most gorgeous land. I always want to go back to Santa Fe because it feels familiar and home-like.

I tasted, as well. American chocolate has a bad reputation, but that is changing. Amano makes some of the best I've ever tasted--their Montanya bar may be my favorite ever. Everything is atmospheric, artistic, pure, and beautiful. I found Valerie Confections and felt fancy with Rose Petal Petits Fours. I ate at House of Tricks by ASU again and again, and then I finally went to Pizzeria Bianco and then went two more times.

I thought more and more of The Wizard of Oz, and I imprinted my own meaning on the green light in The Great Gatsby. I looked at New York and Texas and everywhere else from afar, places that I might enjoy visiting--but that I did not need to visit. There is much to see and do--but not all of that is far away. So much already I have found to delight in. My America is different from your America, colored by the years of our individual lives. But together, our separate experiences and joys comes together and create our America. Let's live it richly, shall we?