juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
I am sitting here after very little sleep, waiting for August's bloodwork to come in—

—thinking about affect, and the fact that, whenever a bad thing is happening, one part of me is having an emotional reaction and another part of me is judging my emotional reaction: is this appropriate? is this authentic? am I performing "sad" or "scared"? When my outward expressions are insufficient, I'm never sure if it's because I'm still processing or because my reluctance to express creates an inability to experience. And always is the certainty that all of it is pretense, even when there's a concrete, external cause. This complicates the experience of bad things, becomes a sort of meta-anxiety.

I know where that self-doubt comes from. It's the natural result of an adolescence and young adulthood being told that all my negative feelings and expressions were drama-mongering, and an adulthood with an invisible condition that likes to go stealth, leaving me with comorbid tremors and depression but unable to feel the underlying pain. But I wonder when that sort of armchair self-psychoanalysis has run its course; at what point does knowing the root of a problem fail to excuse or alleviate it?

—eating chocolate: Madécasse: Sea Salt & Nibs, 63% cocoa. Picked this up because it was on clearance, and to my surprise the company seems sincerely mindful. But the chocolate itself is only so-so. I'm a percentage snob and this is way below my grade; regardless, the soft, sweet, fruity chocolate doesn't work well with the crunchy, strong, salty inclusions. The inclusions are sprinkled on the back of the bar, which looks nice but makes for irregular flavor and texture. This isn't awful and I want to like it very much, but I wouldn't get it again.

—and getting August's results! All is well: her bloodwork is normal, other than indications that she may have been fighting something off, which is consistent with her stomach issues and is already being treated with medication (metronidazole). She's still on bland food and still not eating her normal amount, but her food intake is slowly increasing, all her other symptoms have cleared up, her water intake is fine, and she's had little behavioral change. Unless things get worse/fail to get better, she should be fine. We still don't know what caused this; probably an undefined stomach bug or indigestion.

Now I can sleep mindlessly watch Star Trek for a week.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Brand: Trader Joe's
Flavor: Chocolate Palette: Dominican Republic
Cocoa content: 70%
Review: "Slightly nutty notes and a sharp finish." This chocolate has a surprisingly lovely dry roundness. It's full-bodied, but on the opposite end of the spectrum from robust: dry, golden, subdued, and distinctive. I get little of the sharp finish (except for the ever-present sugary aftertaste), but other than that I have no complaints. This is a satisfying chocolate with a flavor that I don't often see and found I quite enjoyed.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Brand: Trader Joe's
Flavor: Chocolate Palette: Ecuador
Cocoa content: 68%
Review: "Deep chocolate aroma with floral and fruit notes." I generally prefer dark, robust, spicy chocolates (especially in this palette), but Ecuador has flavorful lightness which is surprisingly pleasant: it's airy, deceptively light, palatable, and gently unusual. Unfortunately, the high sugar content gives it a sharp mouthfeel and strong, sweet aftertaste; you wouldn't think that just a few percentage points would make such a difference in the sugar to cocoa ratio, but apparently they do—and Ecuador suffers for it, because it would be better as a bitter chocolate. Fortunately, the chocolate's light flavor is well complimented by plenty of water to wash all the sugar down. I like this bar mode than I'd expect, but the sugar content is just too high to make it truly enjoyable to eat.
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Brand: Trader Joe's
Flavor: Chocolate Palette: São Thomé
Cocoa content: 70%
Review: "Intense cocoa flavor with an exciting bitterness;" in other words: straight up dark chocolate. The relatively high sugar content of the palette overshadows the bitterness and leaves a sweet aftertaste, but the lack of a distinct flavor profile isn't a bad thing: it makes for a decently high quality, palatable, but intense chocolate with a robust, if generic, flavor. While not particularly memorable, this is a good all-round chocolate and a pleasure to eat.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
GODDAMNIT PANDORA, YOU AND I HAVE TALKED ABOUT THIS SONG.

Anyway.

Brand: Trader Joe's
Product: Flourless Chocolate Cake
Review: A run-of-the-mill flourless chocolate torte, unapologetically rich but not particularly intense. The flavor is moderately sweet, a mild, still indulgent, solid chocolate of unexceptional quality; the texture is chewy, smooth, and uniform but for a crunchier drizzle of chocolate on top. The quality of the chocolate leads to a decent but unremarkable flavor, but it's the texture which is the downfall: a good torte should have a bit of crunch at the crust and a dense center, providing texture variation to contrast the uniformity and simplicity of the flavor; this torte has the same mildy thick and creamy texture all the way through, which makes it initially palatable but ultimately monotonous. That doesn't make it a loss: its low price point (around $7 for a one pound torte) justifies the second-rate quality, and served with something to provide some variation in texture it's actually quite nice. My pick for accompaniment was a pistachio gelato: with the melting ice cream and the chunks of nuts on either end and the torte in the middle the texture spectrum was pleasantly diverse, and the chocolate and pistachio compliment one another well.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Brand: Trader Joe's
Flavor: Chocolate Palatte: Tanzania
Cocoa content: 73%
Review: "Subtle fruitiness with a fine hint of vanilla." A robust chocolate, full-flavored and only moderately sweet, settling into a comfortable place between having a personality all its own and being a palatable, approachable, but potent take on an everyman's chocolate. The higher cocoa content tones down the grittiness of the sugar and its strong aftertaste, and so I find this bar much more enjoyable to eat. I prefer a more distinctive flavor and so Tanzania isn't my new favorite, but the experience of eating this full-bodied chocolate is truly enjoyable.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)
Brand: Trader Joe's
Flavor: Chocolate Palette: Venezuela
Cocoa content: 70%
Review: Described as, "Unique, mild taste with hints of floral and dried grasses"; these lighter, drier cocoas tend to be my least favorite. Insofar as unique and mild go together, this is it: an almost thin, dry, almost cool cocoa with a non-sweet flavor (although, as with the rest of the palette, there's actually quite a bit of sugar and a distinct sugary aftertaste), this is different from the robust chocolate I usually favor—but its strangeness is subdued, and I sometimes overlook it. The bar is perfectly palatable—smooth, moderately dark, easy to eat, but the sugar leaves a gritty feel in the mouth. The change of pace of Venezuela's dry flavor can be interesting, but this isn't a remarkable chocolate or particularily to my liking. I eat this one first to get it out of the way.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Brand: Theo
Flavor: Spicy Chile
Cocoa content: 70%
Review: Chile and chocolate are often lovely together, but this is merely an average example of the flavor combination. The chocolate is decent but by no means exceptional: it's smooth, mild, has no distinctive flavor, and is deceptively sweet and thin in the mouth. The spice is moderately strong for a chocolate bar, but it comes late in the bite and lingers in the aftertaste, dry and almost unpleasant in the back of the throat; it's all heat and no flavor, which doesn't add much to the chocolate. Combined with the sweetness, the spice feels like an afterthought and seems almost out of place. Not that the bar is bad overall—the combination is still tried and true, the chocolate is palatable, there's nothing here which is outright offensive. It's just not very good, either. I have other spicy chocolates which I like better; I won't buy this again.

This is part of Theo Chocolate's classic collection; the Bread & Chocolate bar is from the fantasy collection. I imagine their production quality and values are similar; the Spicy Chile does, however, feel classic to the point of routine and even dull; the Bread & Chocolate is more imaginative, flavorful, and successful.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Because, you know, I just don't review nearly enough stuff, I think I'll start jotting down little reviews for chocolate bars. I'm by no means an expert, but I am a chocolate addict and my tastes are growing more discerning. I have a no-exceptions bias for dark chocolate, 65% cocoa content or higher, and I prefer organic, free trade, and single origin products when possible; I dislike fruit (with the exception of orange) and most mint flavorings and inclusions. Expect those biases to be reflected in my reviews. This ain't chocolate for everyone. It's chocolate for me.

Brand: Theo
Flavor: Bread & Chocolate
Cocoa content: 70%
Review: French bread in my chocolate? I wouldn't have guessed, but: yes please! This is surprising and unusual, and a wonderful combination of contrasting textures and flavors. The base is a mild chocolate—70% is dark, but not very dark—which is distinctly sweet without being sugary and has a smooth, light, non-waxy mouthfeel. The French bread is very thin and crisp, and so while it resembles puffed grain inclusions in other chocolates it's actually quite different: it has more weight and body without being heavy or dense, and provides a more slightly more substantial spin on that familiar crunch. The bread is salted, giving salty, savory contrast to the chocolate's sweetness, and the chocolate is quality enough to support the addition but mild enough not to fight it. The feel of biting into this chocolate quickly becomes addicting, the flavor is satisfying complex, and it's palatable and easy to eat without being reduced to sickly sugars and creams. I'm absolutely won over, and will buy this again.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I eat more chocolate than most people. More, darker, purer than most people. I won't touch anything below 60% cacao content, tend towards the 75-85% range, and have happily consumed the mid nineties. I prefer my chocolate in solid bars, but I have a bit of tolerance for inclusions like cocoa nibs or well-done flavors. I feast on single-origin chocolate.

There is no such thing as chocolate too dark, or too much chocolate. And if you believe that, then the following information may be of interest to you. Granted, this information is likely United States-centric. I'm not particularly educated in the way of chocolate—my opinions are mine own, and based only on personal experience. And if you don't eat dark chocolate, I can't help you—indeed perhaps no one can, you poor soul.

The best chocolate I've ever had is Trader Joe's Chocolate Palatte. It's a selection of eight squares of single origin dark chocolate from around the world. The chocolates range between 60-75% cocoa content, and the palette comes with a description of each selection. To my knowledge, it's only available around the winter holidays, and the selections vary a bit from year to year. If you find it, buy it (and mail it to me!). It's always worth it. These chocolates are dark but palatable (very high cocoa percentages can be hard and bitter, but these are smooth and moderately sweet, perfect for eating in any quantity, any time), smooth but never waxy, and each selection is unique. When they say "Tanzania: Subtle fruitiness with a fine hint of vanilla," they mean it: subtle but flavorful, each region's chocolate has its own unique character. As a result there's plenty of variety, and while Venezuela's grasses disappoint me, I think that the peppery bite of Ghana is the perfect chocolate—there is something here for everyone. (Here's 2008's palatte, with descriptions.)

(I like my chocolate bitter—sugar doesn't sit well with me, and I think that solid chocolate should reflect its bitter bean. However, single origins are perfect for infusing subtle flavor while preserving chocolate's true nature. I adore fruitiness and vanillic sweetness, which compliment bitter chocolate to make a well-rounded, palatable bar. But my favorite is pepper and spice, which capitalize on chocolate's inherent bitterness to give it a lovely bite. Outside of single origins, these rules don't apply: I dislike most fruit-flavored chocolate, and I'm not sold on spiced chocolate with the exception of hot peppers.)

Unfortunately the Trader Joe's palette isn't available all year, so I have to make do with other options. I've recently fallen in love with Green & Black's organic chocolate, and it's my second pick. When choosing a dark chocolate, tend towards organic and fair trade—not just because it's the ethical choice, but because these chocolates tend to be higher quality and are, or share qualities with, single origin chocolate. They taste better and have more character. Green & Black's does a lovely, creamy, organic dark chocolate—palatable, but as a trade-off missing some of chocolate's bite. I've only had a couple of their bars so far, but I'm sufficiently impressed to recommend them. Their flavored bars can be a bit strong (Maya Gold is the cloying culprit here), so chose with caution—but sometimes they do a remarkable job, and their Ginger bar is near perfection: the ginger is candied, which makes for a wonderful texture combination—a bit of crunch in the sugar and chewiness in the ginger, but finely chopped to preserve a smooth chocolate texture throughout.

(Chocolate and ginger is startling and wonderful combination, and if you've not tried it then you should. Along with the Green & Black's Ginger I've also had chocolate-dipped ginger, and don't know the maker or I would share, because they are wonderful: rich bites of chewy, fibrous ginger smoothed by dark buttery chocolate. Ginger isn't as sharp as you might think, especially with chocolate; instead, it has a clean, sweet, spiced flavor and a wonderful dense fiberous texture. It's a surprisingly lovely companion to chocolate.)

Before discovering Green & Black's I enjoyed—and I still recommend—Dagoba chocolate. Dagoba generally makes a darker, denser bar; the texture isn't quite as smooth as Green & Black, so it feels less skillful and indulgent. However, their sugar content tastes lower—making for a less palatable chocolate (in the easy-eating sense) which feels a bit more like "real" cocoa. They do a lovely solid dark bar, but my pick from Dagoba is their Xocolatl bar, which is textured with cocoa nibs and flavored with chili. It's a dry, crunchy, bitter, spicy bar that preserves a bit of sweetness and full-flavored fruitiness. It's beautiful and unique, and if you love spicy chocolate this is the bar for you.

I also recommend Scharffen Berger chocolate. It's not an exceptional chocolate and I've not explored much of their range, but their 70% cacao bar is a good, solid, dark chocolate. And I mean that literally: it's also used for baking, and it's thick and dense as a brick. It doesn't have a distinctive taste but it has a nice, deep, rich flavor and it's smooth without being too creamy or waxy. My folks stock this for baking, and I steal if for eating. It's not my first choice but it's a dependable, enjoyable option.

Meanwhile there's plenty of chocolate which I don't recommend—primarily Lindt. Lindt makes a smooth, dark bar and seems like a good idea—but it goes downhill from there. Lindt chocolate is flat and bland, altogether lacking personality, and its smoothness tends towards waxiness. Their darker bars have a lovely low sugar content, but the bland chocolate doesn't have any flavor to round out the bar—so they're bitter and featureless. The flavored bars have a lower cocoa content and more sugar; they start out well (their Chili bar in particular is promising), but end up excessively milky and sickly-sweet. These bars are readily available and they have a famous name and a beautiful image, but skip them—the chocolate itself is disappointing.

I don't recommend Ghiradelli chocolate either, for similar reasons—at least, I think so. It's been so long since I've eaten their chocolate that I barely remember just what factors lead to the apathy that made me search for a new chocolate bar. It's fair to say that their dark chocolate bars are featureless. They do a good balance of darkness vs. palatability, but the texture also leans towards waxy and simply put: a bland, unremarkable chocolate is not a chocolate worth eating.

On that note I also warn away from most commercial supermarket chocolates, even if they have a "dark" flavor. Dove's dark is waxy. Hersey's dark is gritty with sugar. Commercial dark chocolate is best preserved for commercial candy bars (mmmmm, Milky Way Dark). If you want real dark chocolate—dense, smooth, flavorful quality stuff which will do more than satisfy a sugar craving and actually fulfill a need for the darkest cocoa—invest in a specialty bar. The increased cost and decreased accessibility more than pay off, because these bars will last you through more than one sitting and they won't leave you still hungry for real chocolate.

No doubt there are brands that I've not tried—and I'm welcome to suggestions—but discovering Green and Black's has had these thoughts on my mind and so I thought I'd share. I wrote it over the weekend when no one read's LJ, so I shall post in now on a weekday when someone might. On a similar note, a few weekends ago I wrote a post on dealing with chronic lower back pain—information from my experience which may provide advice for yours. If that may be helpful to you, have at!

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