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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

San Diego: Huckleberry Truffles

Although I wouldn't say that San Diego is one of those places that really speaks to me, the candy for sale in the Historic Old Town San Diego area has most certainly always spoken to me. My souvenirs this time? Lots of tea, lots of chocolate, and lots of candy. Here is most of the candy that I picked out:

When I spend a little time in Cambria while visiting Hearst Castle, I adored the pretty little town and walked out happily with a huckleberry chocolate, finding the flavor very pleasant. Cousin's Candy Shop in San Diego also had a lot of huckleberry products; I bought a small jar of jelly and two truffles, one milk and one dark. In simple foil wrap, they didn't strike me as anything that would have an amazing level of quality--but just as something nice and simple to come across while walking around. 

The first chocolate I unwrapped was in the lighter shade of purple, so I thought it must be the milk chocolate, even when I saw its light shade of brown. But it turns out that the truffle in the darker wrapper was in fact the one with lighter color. (They were labeled in the store, but I quickly forgot which was which.) The dark chocolate is standardly creamy and the milk chocolate standardly sweet for confections. Nothing fancy here. 

But I'm still fascinated enough by the huckleberry flavor that I still don't really care if the chocolate is good or not. The purple filling tastes like berries but also like sweetness; it goes well with the creaminess of the chocolate. If you were to use a better quality chocolate, you would also have to have a better filling. But as it is, with both of them being mediocre, these truffles are simply a chocolate berry candy. 

I was never expecting them to be anything more than candy. Sure, it would be nice if they were, yet I still enjoy finding random chocolate candy at wonderfully fun candy stores. And there's something about huckleberry that tastes like nostalgia . . . maybe because it's a flavor that isn't often used anymore. Let me finish by saying that everything in the top picture is by now long gone, except for the three items on the left (rose mints, a small Taza bar, and chocolate Necco wafers). I guess I did eat half of it on the car ride back home. I do love candy.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An Adventure Beyond a Lifetime

I've been having a good time this week: in preparation for Season 8 beginning on Saturday, BBC America is playing all sorts of Doctor Who material in addition to the episode reruns. So some of what I missed out on by only getting into the show this year is now available to me. One of those sometimes is the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, which covers the story of how Doctor Who began.

Certain parts of this story I already knew--but not everything. And even for me, there was much of nostalgia in this movie. When I watched it, I had watched the classic episodes up to "The Web Planet," so I recognized the clips and sets that they showed because most of them were up to this episode. And the way that they introduced the Daleks, with suspense and comments about their silliness, all leading up to their ultimate success as foes. I heard about Daleks years before I ever heard of Doctor Who--that's saying something.

But besides all the excitement at seeing this show begin and seeing reminders of its early days and its greatest successes, as a movie this story offered something rather unique--and just like the show itself. It's tragic the way that William Hartnell is so successful as the Doctor and yet simply cannot, physically, handle the role anymore. It's heartbreaking when he has to leave. But then his words "I don't want to go" echo the Tenth Doctor, and as he is filming his final scene, he sees the Eleventh Doctor on the other side of the TADIS. And we're reminded of the cyclical nature of the show and of everything. Sadness must precede a new dawn, and every person's role, however important, must end and a new person's role begin. It's the story of Doctor Who and it's the story of life.

The story of Verity Lambert was inspiring and the story of a show's success was sweet, but best of all in An Adventure in Space and Time was the sense of a moment in time setting the stage for and overlapping over every future moment in time. There is joy, there is tragedy, there is hope, and there is life. I really enjoyed this movie.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Eclipse Chocolate: Cinnamon Brown Sugar

Just as a very dark chocolate tests the skills of a chocolatier, a sweet chocolate tests the grounds for a chocolate maker. If they can't put together sweet flavors in a way that is still gourmet, then they are making confections, not chocolate. So I consider it okay that, when I visited the Eclipse Chocolate cafe and shop, the one chocolate bar I picked up was a 38% milk chocolate, by name the Cinnamon Brown Sugar. I'm done with choosing chocolate because I think it's what I should be getting: I'll choose whatever I feel like instead. If it's a sugary milk chocolate, then so be it. I'm the one who's going to be eating it, anyway. (I really need to elaborate someday on my progression from very dark chocolate when I was younger to more milk chocolate as I get older . . . )

At about nine inches, this 75 gram bar stretches across a whole page of paper. You don't usually see such long bars of chocolate; I'm not sure whether or not I like the shape. It does, however, remind me of the candy bar Charlie bought in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory--which makes me further glad that I picked out a sweet chocolate. I suppose the size makes it stand out and makes it recognizable. It somehow also looks both masculine and feminine at the same time; it's bold because it's different, and yet it's sort of delicate because it can break more easily than a flat bar.

The bar is divided into nine chunks. They're tastefully shaped so that the curve of the chocolate echoes the curve in the Eclipse logo. But while the large size of each piece seems to fit milk chocolate, I can't find myself liking this size for a more serious dark chocolate. Maybe that's the idea: maybe Eclipse Chocolate doesn't want to be overly serious. 

This chocolate smells wonderful. The description calls it "milk chocolate flecked with muscovado sugar, cinnamon bread crumbs, and sea salt." That description has promise in it. Cinnamon is wonderful in chocolate, a rich-tasting sugar sounds good, and sea salt is the popular addition these days. The aroma is intense cinnamon, like from fresh churros. It's very sweet, like the sweetness of a thousand desserts. 

When you bite in, the tendency is naturally going to be to keep on chewing: all those tiny bits of toasty bread have to be crunched. As you crunch, you come across the sea salt here and there and it helps to take off some of the edge of the sweetness. So you're crunching through bread crumbs, melting through chocolate, and sucking on salt all at once. Although 38% cacao isn't the lowest percentage as far as milk chocolate goes, this one ends up feeling rather on the lighter end of things, probably because of how many flavors it has to compete with. And on top of the sugar that was already in the chocolate, Eclipse added the muscovado sugar, so this is quite a sweet chocolate bar. 

Yet I think I would still call it a gourmet candy bar. It satisfies the sweet tooth, that's for sure, but sometimes we need things to satisfy our sweet tooth. And why reach for a Milky Way that's going to disappoint you with its cardboardness halfway through when you can have a sweet bar that still has some thought behind it? Sure, it's a tad on the greasy side, but the overall combination of ingredients and flavors is quite nice. The milk chocolate, the cinnamon, and the sugar are the familiar and safe ingredients. The salt adds a contemporary, more adult edge to it. And the bread (which I have only had in one other bar, from Theo) adds something silly that also makes a lot of sense. Just picture a piece of toast with sugar on top, a cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon, and a little salt to lick off of the palm of your hand. The Cinnamon Brown Sugar takes all of that and melds it into one seamless chocolate.