Friday, September 12, 2014

David Bacco: Madagascar 64%

You know what I'm going to do? Since I bought two David Bacco chocolate bars, I'm going to wait until I get to the second bar to read more about the company. Sound fair? This way I can look at the chocolate, apart from the company; I like to start that way when I can. 

These two bars were yet another of my purchases from Rust General Store in San Diego--and don't worry, I'm almost done with my San Diego chocolates. I got excited about these expensive white squares because I had never heard of the company, but it looked like it might be worth: it's Fair Trade, it mentions cacao origin and percentage, there are flavor notes on the back, and there are no filler or artificial ingredients. The minimalist design of the card box suggests that the focus is on the chocolate, not frilly packaging. 

That said, I do not like this packaging. You see the back of the card box here? It's sealed with a red sticker, which is where the info about cacao origin, tasting notes, and ingredients is. So to open the box, you have to tear the sticker. Really? That means two things: you tear the words and can't read all of them as well anymore and you can't really close the box again. This may all seem like a minor detail, but to me it's quite annoying. 

The best buy date on this bar is December, so it does have a light coating of bloom. (Why do I always end up with chocolate with bloom?) As you can see, though, it's the kind that brushes right off, so the only thing it really affects is looks. And that is a shame because I like the design on this bar. It looks like a puzzle, with twenty angular pieces of different sizes and shapes all arranged inside the single square. It's like a choose-your-own collection: you can pick a piece you like or easily break one in half if you want something smaller. Visually, it has the right blend between sleekness and fun. 

Out of all the choices available, yes, I chose a traditional Madagascar. The fact is, I like the taste of cocoa from Madagascar and it just seems like a familiar place to begin investigation of a new company. The thing is, it's only 64% cacao; that's fairly low. The seventies are more common. As a result, this chocolate is on the sweet side for a gourmet dark chocolate. I can't help but wish there were less sugar and slightly more focus on the cocoa. 

Specifically, the cocoa beans in this bar are Trinitario and Criollo varieties from the Sambriano Ebene area of Madagascar. The flavor description that David Bacco gives is: "Dried figs, raisins, red fruit, and soft cacao aromas entwined with a sense of fresh figs, wild berries, and roasted hazelnut, finishes with an intent cacao flavor." Was that supposed to be "intense" instead of "intent?" Anyway. The fruity notes listed there are what compose Madagascan origin chocolate and what give it that approachable liveliness. As the chocolate melts, it does give way to a more general chocolate flavor--might I also add that this chocolate melts very smoothly. It's good chocolate and it is worth the high price I paid (which was not the most I've spent, per gram, for chocolate), but I keep wondering if it is missing something. What I keep coming back to is the sweet side to this chocolate bar. It may be that the Madagascar is simply designed to be semisweet, a bridge on the way to darker chocolate. If that is the case, maybe the second David Bacco bar will be more to my tastes. We shall see. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Land Painted in Red, White, and Purple

Where land meets the sky, where bare earth is hidden between sheets of grasslands, and where color is born out of the land, that is the Painted Desert. The land spreads in the area southeast of the Grand Canyon and northeast of Phoenix; it's to the right of Flagstaff, taking the 40 out. Technically, when you visit, you will go to the Petrified Forest National Park, entering a long road from one end or the other.

As you travel along this road, there are various stopping points, some with short trails and some just with lookout points. What is amazing is that, driving through the area, all you will see is grass and maybe a couple of the pretty rocks and dirt. So when you get off and look, it's like you're in a secret land. Sometimes it is colored in red, etched against all the space leading to the horizon. Sometimes it is white, decorated like ancient stone.

I was entranced by the Painted Desert from the first time that I heard its name, in class in 4th grade. I didn't visit, however, until about eight years ago, and my second visit wasn't until this past weekend. It is a gorgeous place of color, completely incapable of being photographed. No picture can ever grasp what it is like to stand there. All colors seem pale in pictures and all sense of space is lost. The first time I visited, I don't remember taking the Blue Mesa Trail; it's possible that it wasn't set up yet, but I don't know.

This trail takes around 45 minutes, and it is absolutely one of the best parts of the park. You descend a short distance into a land of purple and white hills. They look soft, like piles of powder, but are in fact stone, if soft stone. There are cracks in this stone, like cracks in cement: when it rains, the rain absorbs into the hills until they're full and it drains out through the bottom (or something like that). That's how you end up with the lovely, miniature dry river beds all around the hills. 

It was about 90 or so degrees when we arrived at the park around one. We had our picnic lunch and got off at the first few stops, and by the time we got to the Blue Mesa Trail, the clouds were settling in, the wind was gathering, and the rain was beginning far off on the horizon. Translation: the weather was perfect for a nice little walk, even if it was quite windy. 

It's like you're walking in another land or in an artist's sculpture, formed out of clay and painted with pastel colored pencils. You look in awe at everything. What a shade of deep purple. What beautiful tops of white. What wonderful sheltered, open space. In a way, it's better than the Grand Canyon: you have to be in good shape to for a long hike there and we're all used to seeing pictures of it, but this feels so very unique and personal. 

The Painted Desert is one of my favorite places. The sky seems so big and the earth so delectable. There is always something to look at, and none of it is the same. 

And oh, yes, here are some petrified wood stumps. The petrified wood is what the park is all about, after all, though as an Arizonan, petrified wood just isn't as interesting to me as it might be to someone else. I've always owned at least a few pieces of it (and not the boring polished kind, either). 

The area is also known for fossils, so some of the stores around sell fossils and the like. On the way home, I stopped to help a young dinosaur out of its shell. Cute little thing. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Redstone's: La Azteca

It took me a while to admit that, in general, I don't like chili in chocolate. Unless the chocolate is very good and the effect is carried out very well, the flavors feel incongruous to me. And the harsh biting of spice tends to take away from the gentle wooing of the chocolate. So I passed by a couple of Redstone's bars in San Diego because I just wasn't interested in chili chocolates anymore. I did, however, pause on this bar, La Azteca, because it includes cinnamon and cacao nibs with the chili (which is from chipotle pepper powder). While I may pause at chili in chocolate, cinnamon in chocolate is completely natural--and also possibly a good bridge between chocolate and chili. 

The chocolate is in many ways completely standard. The packaging looks standard, the mold is standard, the 72% cacao content is standard, and even the light layer of bloom on the chocolate is standard. I just wasn't very excited about trying this chocolate. Yet when I unwrapped the paper and foil, there was a pleasant cinnamon scent which carries through into the flavor. This isn't the type of chili chocolate that will burn you so intensely that you can taste nothing else; in fact, the spice is rather light. A good part of it, after all, comes from the cinnamon, not just from the chipotle. 

Though cinnamon also has spice to it, it's generally combined with sweet things, so it helps to ease your taste buds into the chipotle as the chocolate melts. The light, squeaky crunch of the cacao nibs acts almost like a palate cleanser to keep the chocolate grounded. The nibs and the cinnamon do, I think, give this bar more of an old world feel, a sense slightly closer to rustic chocolate with many spices. 

I think it could all be even better and I am still not won over to chili chocolate, but if that is what you are seeking, then this little bar is not bad. I wonder what it would taste like if I made it into hot chocolate . . .

Sunday, August 31, 2014

August Favorites

1) Green Oaxaca Animals - The carved and painted wooden animals from Oaxaca are beautiful little pieces of art, but I have always found them too colorful for me. When I was in San Diego this month, though, I thought of how I can incorporate them into my style: collect them all in green only. An armadillo and a lizard are the start of my all-green collection.

2) Tortoiseshell Cameo - Yes, I went to an antique store or two in California, too. I wear my cameos all the time, so why not get another one? This one is brown and black and rectangular, making it different from the ones I already have.

3) Harney & Sons Vanilla Comoro Tea - I've already mentioned how much I loved the Rust General Store. One of the things I bought there was this tea, which comes in such a pretty tin and smells like the most delicate and fragrant vanilla. I've been getting a lot of vanilla teas lately, and I think this one might be my favorite.

4) Burt's Bees Lip Crayon in Hawaiian Smolder - Good old Burt's Bees. Their tinted lip balms were perfect for when I was in school: they add just a touch of color, which is what you want when other people around you don't tend to be wearing much makeup. Given that those colors ran light, I picked out one of the brighter shades of the lip crayon. This product feels more like a lipstick but still has some moisturizing to it. It stays on pretty well if you apply a lot; if you want a lighter look, you can always add just a brush of color.

5) Chocolate Notebooks - First I saw one and then the other two, and I rebelliously decided that I didn't need to choose just one: I could get them all. In mint green, lavender, and deep brown, they're all gorgeous, whether you use them for recipes, chocolate tasting notes, or whatever else.

6) L'Oreal Nail Polish in Pop the Bubbles - I hadn't used glitter nail polish since I was around ten. But then I was going to the beach and glitter does go with sand and this polish is in a sea serpent shade (sea serpents are cooler than mermaids), so I got it.

7) Pigeon Figure - Some time ago, I found a brown pigeon that instantly took up residence among my books. So when I saw another one in gray at a different store, how could I say no? It was a good thing I didn't: the woman at the register said they stopped making them because the cast iron was becoming too expensive.

8) Kelly's Spa Bath Gel in Tuscan Soul - If you've ever stayed at the Mission Inn in Riverside, you will be familiar with the spa products that they stock the rooms with. Finally I decided not to be content with a tiny bottle of bath gel and went to the spa store to buy a full-size version. The scent has just become so luxuriously familiar to me.

9) Lavender Tea Tree Oil - I was looking for tea tree oil (it's great for keeping things clean and even keeping away certain bugs, plus it smells fresh like eucalyptus) but all the store had was tea tree with lavender. And you know what? The two smell great together. I'm obsessed now with spraying tea tree lavender.

10) Tarte Gifted Amazonian Clay Mascara - Tarte doesn't have very many mascaras, but it took me a while to try this one. I think I might like it a tiny bit more than the others. Maybe. Plus, it has this beautiful bamboo case.

11) Les Anis de Flavigny French Mints in Rose - The Rust General Store also had these lovely mints. My friend likes to buy the violet version, which I'm not too fond of. But I love rose, so I had to try these; they're delightful and the tin looks gorgeous in my purse. I might just have to buy more online when these run out.

12) Yellow Notebooks - Yes, I bought even more notebooks. The one on the left is French, and the one on the right uses an old textile pattern. They're both lovely and slightly rustic.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Star Wars in Reverse

If you could choose between a tragedy and a cyclical story, which would you choose?

I always found it interesting that, if you watch Star Wars in released order (original trilogy first, then prequel trilogy), it ends with a sad ending (The Revenge of the Sith), the happy ending (The Return of the Jedi) being lost somewhere in the middle of the story. But it turns out that the story is in fact much sadder if you watch in chronological order, even though this allows you, officially, to end on the happy ending.

It always seemed like it would be so wrong to watch the prequel trilogy first; I never had done it before. Granted, while growing up we only owned the original trilogy and Episode I. So we would either watch the trilogy or the single episode. When I got to college, I watched Episodes II and III for the first time since they first came out; I would watch the two of them together. Once I ended up with the whole I-VI set, I watched it in released order a couple of times. Then I decided it was time to try something new, to just try it and see what it was like.

When you are watching the prequel trilogy after the original, you've just come from seeing the defeat of the Empire. It all feels more like seasons of peace and seasons of chaos. So as you see the start of the Emperor's reign, you're thinking, oh, so this is how it all started. But when the prequel trilogy is the first part that you watch, you don't have the same sense of hope and history: you're watching the reign of terror begin for the first time and its end seems very far away. Everything feels much more tragic.

Then once you move on to A New Hope, the perspective is still different. Instead of watching everything fresh from Luke's eyes as he learns about the rebellion and everything else, you are watching with the idea of a broken family in your mind. He is the son who had his family taken from him and is now left to try and put things right. Yes, Luke helps Darth Vader change back to Anakin Skywalker in the end--but all the years they could have had together are lost. The family unit was ripped apart as soon as it began and can never go backwards. The Empire is defeated--but its reign was still at the expense of this family. And the personal can be very tragic.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Taza: Hazelnut Crunch

If I lived in San Diego, I would be at the Rust General Store all the time. I couldn't work there because I would steal everything. Food, candy, tea, honey sticks, soap, candy, tea, and did I mention the chocolate? The store opened in 2011, which may have been after my last visit to the area, so this might have been my first time there. I, um, I bought a lot. I was even more excited here than in the candy store. One of the things I bought was this little, 24 gram bar from Taza Chocolate. 

I've had most of Taza's chocolate bars, so it surprised me to find something I had never seen before. The Hazelnut Crunch is part of the Tazitos Minibars range, which are all 65% cacao chocolate with crisped brown rice and one of five flavors: plain, almond, coconut, peanut, and hazelnut. I like hazelnuts, so that was my choice. The tiny bar is only about three inches (8cm) long, so it's divided into a simple three pieces. The small/medium-sized hazelnut pieces can be seen from the back of the chocolate. 

If you are unfamiliar with Taza, you must first realize that this is stone ground chocolate, left in a less refined state than most chocolate you buy. The particles have not been ground down as small, so it has a rustic feel to it while still being very good. It's chocolate you have to munch on, which in fact goes well with the addition of nuts. When you bite into the Hazelnut Crunch, you taste the chocolate and the hazelnut and then wonder what the other flavors are. It's the vanilla and the salt: they're less hidden as they might be in a smoother bar. They've come out to be part of the party with the chocolate and hazelnut. Soon you discover that not all the crunch comes from the hazelnut; some of it is the crisped rice, which is made with sugar and molasses. 

This bar is absolutely delicious. And yes, it's organic and Direct Trade. The 65% dark chocolate is steady on its feet, the hazelnut is casual, the crisped rice and vanilla are sweet, and the salt adds texture to combine the flavor of the nuts with the rest of the ingredients. I'm not sure how to label it all. A gourmet candy bar, no: it's too good on its own to call it that. A snacking bar? That sounds too boring. But honestly, the small size and the casual-yet-good-quality nature of this bar make it perfect for hanging out near the register at stores. It's something you can quickly pick up to satisfy all sorts of cravings, whether you're craving chocolate, a bit of sugar, or just something to munch on. I don't think there's anything out there that's quite like this bar; no one could have put it together quite like Taza. I want to finish it all up, but I also hate to see it go. 

Taza Chocolate Crunch Tazito, Hazelnut, 0.85 Ounce (Pack of 20)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Who Are You?

It is a strange thing to stop watching a TV show on Netflix or Hulu and to begin watching it, episode by episode, as it airs on TV. It is very strange to have to wait in between episodes, and somehow everything new that you see feels all the more new than if you're watching a pile of episodes online. It just feels different.

Season 8 is my first season of Doctor Who that I will be watching on TV, episode by episode. This is it; this is the beginning. Fitting, then, that this season is also the start of a new doctor's reign. Sure, I watched Christopher Eccleston regenerate into David Tennant and David Tennant regenerate into Matt Smith, but Matt Smith regenerating into Peter Capaldi feels so much more permanent. He isn't the next actor that I'll be watching for the coming week's worth of episodes (as it is when you're watching old episodes online); he's going to be the Doctor for I don't know how many years to come. I don't know if it's heartbreaking this time; it's just weird.

Everyone was also expecting this to be a weird transition because we're going from the youngest doctor to a much older actor. But oh, my goodness, the script has all this make so much sense. The Eleventh Doctor was always trying to be young and enjoying being young and pushing away worry. He left the Twelfth Doctor to inherit all of that worry. He carries an enormous burden of time with him. This first episode had such wonderful moments in it, moments that ponder the difference between physical identity and inner identity. What does age mean? What impact does eternity have on individuality? How can you keep one character intact if he is constantly changing? Does he have anything new to give? Anything good?

Besides giving this episode a wonderful steampunk style, the clockwork droids serve as a way to combine the episode's plot with what is happening to the Doctor. His questions about his own identity reflect back and forth to the droids. And the connection to "The Girl in the Fireplace" (which was one of the episodes that helped establish the Tenth Doctor as, in many ways, a tragic figure) also helps us reconnect that sense of tragedy to this doctor. Then there's that scene where he tells the dinosaur that he'll save it and it instantly burns up in flame; that was just the entire show (at its current point) encapsulated in a single moment. The Doctor, believing all can be right in the world and that he can help make it so, but bringing death and destruction in his wake.

Clara's reaction to Peter Capaldi's doctor is not only a smart way of helping the audience get used to a new doctor, but also an intriguing exploration of character. Who is any person? Would we be the same if our consciousness could be put into a different body? What does "the same" even mean? And are we even "the same" all throughout our lives, even if we live in the same body the whole time? These are the types of things I find so compelling about this show and while the time travel, the history, the action, and all of that are all fun, it's this that keeps me most interested. So as a first episode, "Deep Breath" was quite good and definitely has me curious to see more.