Tag Archives: Angel

Savour: Chocolate Tasting

“Never say savor when you only mean taste – one is a holding on the tongue and an intoxication and the other is cursory, a sampling, connoting reluctance to bask. Never say a thing you don’t mean.” 

Bryana Johnson (Poet)

Tasting chocolate is different from chocolate tasting.  If it seems as if I’m quibbling, I promise I am not.  What’s the difference you say?  One is a quick, almost involuntary, response to something you put in your mouth.  The other is a slow and purposeful exploration of the senses and the mind.  You can actually test this statement using chocolate.

In Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic there is a challenge to taste two pieces of the same dark chocolate at different speeds.  You are instructed to eat the first piece quickly.  Put it in your mouth, chew a few times and swallow.  Between the first and second tasting you should cleanse your palate with water.  The second piece of chocolate should be approached with slowness.  Hold it cupped in your hand and hold it close to your face.  Breathe in deeply and then put the chocolate in your mouth.  Let the piece of chocolate begin to melt in your mouth before you begin chewing.  You should be able to taste a difference between the slow and the fast.  For some people it will register as more sweetness when you go slowly, for other’s there will be hints of other flavors.  There is no right or wrong taste.  It is an individual experience.

 Where, When, What, Why and How

Before we talk chocolate tasting, there are some basic considerations and preparations.  I’ll begin with the setting.  Setting is important for many reasons.  Smells, sounds, and external stimuli all impact the process of tasting.  Choosing your location lets you control potential distractions like TV, computers or music.  Certain sounds and pitches can literally change the way you taste things.  Take a look at the article, “How Does Sound Affect The Ways We Experience Food and Drink?”

Choosing your setting also allows you to control smells like colognes, perfumes, lotions, hair products or even pleasant household smells!   Heavy smells of any kind can interfere with the olfactory portions of tasting.

Timing is everything, or in this case can make a big difference.  There is no set hour or day of the week, but you should pick a time that allows you to feel relaxed.  Feeling like you have to hurry is a distraction and will take some of the fun out of it.

After where and when, comes what.  What type of chocolate are you going to taste?  Are you sticking to one variety from different vendors?  Are you comparing and contrasting types of chocolate?  Or are you sampling different flavor varieties of one type of chocolate?  Think about why you want to do a tasting and choose accordingly.  Whichever you choose, try to limit yourself to 6 chocolates.  If you try to taste more than 6 per setting, your pleasant tasting may become a chore.  For a complete beginner I’d even suggest sticking to 3 or 4.

In addition to your chocolates of choice, you will need a palate cleanser.  This can be as simple as water, or it can include things like crackers and apple slices.  If you buy a block of chocolate, you might need a knife and cutting board.  If you are a lone taster, make sure you’ve gathered something in which to store your left over chocolate, presuming you have the self-control required to resist eating it all in one setting.  If you’re like me and may not remember details about each chocolate, you may want to have a pen and some paper handy to take notes.

This brings me to engaging your mind, as well as senses.  As you’ve read, there is already a bit of thought that goes into a chocolate tasting.  But beyond the questions of what, where, when, and why is how you approach chocolate tasting.  Although it is not inherently necessary to know anything about the chocolate chosen for a tasting, learning a little bit about your chocolate can enhance the experience.

For instance, if you’ve chosen to sample 3-4 dark chocolate varieties with 86% cacao, you might want to know a little bit about the origins, growing conditions and processing of your chocolate.  In this particular instance, many of these chocolates will have distinct overtones based on all three of those factors.  If you are comparing and contrasting dark (bittersweet and semi-sweet), milk, and white chocolate, you might want to know what traits define each type of chocolate.  The types of chocolate are determined by the amount of cacao, milk solids, and sugars they contain.  If you are a traveler, arm chair or frequent flier, you might be intrigued by the varieties of cacao and the regions in which they are grown.  There is no right or wrong way to approach what you want to learn about chocolate.  Like sense of taste, delving into the informational world of chocolate is an individual quest.

Now it’s time for the nitty-gritty.  Your five senses and your mind are all you need from here on out.

Sight:  This stage is known as presentation.  Upon unwrapping, your chocolate should have a smooth, glossy surface.  If dull, waxy or showing snowflake like marks it has either been the victim of poor tempering and/or bad storage habits.  Ideal storage places chocolate between 59 and 68 degrees in an airtight container.

Sound:  I like what Sandra Boyton wrote, “Good chocolate should have a lively, decisive break.  If it splinters, it is too dry.  If it breaks reluctantly, it is too waxy.  If it folds, something is definitely wrong.”  The snap good chocolate should make is part of the crystal structure formed during tempering.  Chocolate is a six-phase polymorphic crystal, which means it can take on 6 different crystalline structures, and how those little chocolate molecules group together is determined by the temperature of the chocolate when you pour it. Who knew science could be so tasty!

Smell:  Time for some orthonasal olfaction!  Place your piece of chocolate in the palm of your cupped hand, lean in and take a sniff.  Now put your other hand over it and make a chocolate cave.  I’m totally serious.  Okay, maybe not serious, but it is a real instruction.  Once you’ve created your chocolate cave, inhale deeply through your nose.  If you’re mind starts racing, that’s okay.  Thoughts, impressions and memories are the process of the brain trying to identify what it smells.  Is the scent ephemeral or pungent?  Is it here then gone, or does it stick around?  Is there more than one aroma?

Touch: This one involves your hands and you mouth.  During the process of breaking the piece of chocolate and sniffing it, what does it feel like and what is happening to it?  Is it melting?  If not, put it between your forefingers and thumb and hold it there for a few seconds.  Quality chocolate, with high cocoa content, will melt differently than the normal sticky mess that milk chocolate or inferior chocolate will make.  The secret is the combination of high cocoa and cocoa butter.  Many chocolates, milk and dark, will have fillers and/or emulsifiers instead of cocoa butter.  Cocoa butter not only slows the melty mess, but gives your chocolate a fantastic texture.  This brings me around to mouthfeel.  As Boynton says, “This somewhat upoetic expression means texture.  A good piece of chocolate should feel smooth and moist.  And the dark, which may not melt on your hand at all, should begin to melt once it’s setting on your tongue and your mouth closes around it.

A personal aside is, be mindful of what you eat in the hours before you do your tasting.  Anything too acidic or spicy may throw off your tasting groove.  Everyone is a little different, but I have discovered that my palate is deeply affected by the chemistry of my food.  Sticking with bland foods (think pasta with summer veggies), at least a couple hours before your tasting, will put you in the safe zone.

Taste: This last sense is both simple and complex.  Place the piece of chocolate in your mouth, but let it rest on your tongue.  Don’t chew it yet.  Try to let it begin melting on your tongue.  A flavor of some sort should become distinct as it begins to melt.  What descriptors come to mind?  Is it sweet, nutty or bitter?  Does it make you think of flowers?  How about spices?

If the chocolate isn’t melting and/or you’re not getting a distinct flavor, there are a few things you can try.  First bite into the chocolate, try not to chew.  And/or you can pinch your nose while it is melting and/or you are biting gently.  Once you perceive a sensation of some melting, release your nose and inhale through your nose.  This should deliver a flavor burst of some sort.  Your sense of smell is linked to your sense of taste in creating what we describe as flavor.  Without retronasal olfaction, you will not get a true sense of any flavor.

In Tasty:  The Art and Science of What We Eat, John McQuaid uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between taste and smell.  “Each partner has complementary strengths and weaknesses.  Their paths through the brain unite.”  And later in the same chapter, “Taste and smell blend so seamlessly in flavors that the different senses merge, becoming indistinguishable.  The brain even mixes them up.”

When we think about the “smell” of chocolate, we will often default to the idea of sweet, but that is actually the taste.  When we describe a taste we might say something is sharp or tangy, but those are actually descriptors derived from olfaction. Chocolate tasting should help convince you that taste and smell are an old married couple.

For more information on the marriage between your sense of smell and taste click on the picture below from the Monell Center Blog.

 

Parting  Thoughts

If you, like me, obsess over giving something the perfect description, you might want to consider the use of tasting wheels.  The two primary types are texture wheels and flavor/aroma wheels. Both of these are found in the book Chocolate: Indulge Your Inner Chocoholic; but they can also be found online.  Just make sure you specify chocolate before the terms TEXTURE WHEEL OR TASTING WHEEL.  There are so many things to taste and different wheels for each of them.

However and what ever you choose to taste, the experience will likely impact all your future flavor perceptions.  Our sense of smell, McQuaid explains, is hardwired to parts of the brain that “link the past and present.”  This connector is a part of the brain known as the insula, which ultimately helps translate the “body’s internal state and external circumstances.”  So have fun, make some memories, and build your flavor library.

Angel’s Reading List

In the last Savour post, Chocolate, En garde!,  I wrote about the learning process involved in preparing for a chocolate tasting program.  I challenged readers with a quiz; and promised answers.  Here are the answers:

CCN-51; Hawaii; Paso de la Amada, home to the Mokaya; cheese; fresh pears and oranges; clean palate; symbolized the human heart, torn from chest at the moment of sacrifice; money;  an agreement to certify cocoa’s “child labor free” status; froth hot chocolate.

“The secret of food lies in memory – of thinking and then knowing what the taste of cinnamon or steak is.”  Jerry Saltz

Article by Angel, Bon Air Branch

Savour: Chocolate, En Garde!

“Chocolate knows no boundaries; speaks all languages; comes in all sizes; is woven through many cultures and disciplines … it impacts mood, health, and economics, and it is a part of our lives from early childhood through the elderly years.”   — Herman A. Berliner (Economist and Educator)  

In preparation for a chocolate tasting program, I delved into all things chocolate.  I traveled around the world, into laboratories and bakeries, and through a tour of the senses.  It was a dizzying, yet undeniably enlightening, journey.  I learned that this delightful treat has a colorful and sometimes dark history.  I learned chocolate is powerful force in the economies of several countries.  I learned that rainforests are vital to the continued existence of chocolate.   I learned that chocolate is science in action.  I learned that tasting chocolate uses all the senses.  There were many more nuanced lessons that I absorbed but couldn’t necessarily recall on demand.  This is how any search for knowledge works, at least for me.

I could pontificate upon the many things I’ve learned, but I much rather have a little fun.  Let me challenge you with a little chocolate trivia.

To check your answers you can read all the fabulous books featured below, or you can wait for the answers to be revealed in Savour: Chocolate Tasting, an explanation of how to use all five senses to find your best chocolate(s)….I, for one, can never be satisfied with only one type of chocolate.

Chocolate by Dom Ramsey

 

This book is by far the best all-in-one resource.  It has the nitty-gritty on the agriculture, geography, processing, selection, and tasting of chocolate.  As is the case with most DK books it is full of beautiful illustrations and well placed text.  This books saves the best for last with a section entitled ENJOY.  Enjoy is 49 pages of recipes and beautiful photos of the finished product you, the reader, can make at home.  And if the finished product doesn’t look like the beautiful picture, that’s okay.  In the end, it’s all about the chocolate.

Chocolate: Sweet Science and Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg

I have to confess the “dark secrets” made a bigger impact on me than the “sweet science.”  This book is weighted on either end by the history and future of chocolate.  The book opens on April 25, 1947 with four little boys who discover their beloved chocolate bars have risen from 5 cents to 8.  The boys organized a strike, and although it was ultimately unsuccessful, it drove home the point that “life without chocolate had become unthinkable.”  This rolls right into an August 1502 story about Columbus, in which he observes that the Native Americans he has seized are placing great importance on something he describes as “strange-looking almonds.”  What follows is a succinct but engaging narrative of the history and science of chocolate.  The book culminates in a segment titled Chocolate Rainforests and discusses how chocolate might help save Rainforests.

Chocolate: Riches from the Rainforest by Robert Burleigh

This next book, part of our children’s collection, is recommended for readers eight and older.  It has many of the elements of the previous two books, in a much more condensed fashion.  What makes this book stand out is the art and layout.  The book uses geometric shapes, rich colors and a blend of photos, historical artwork and nostalgic ads to keep the reader engaged.  Even the font is color coordinated and varied for impact.  My favorite factoid from this book is that chocolate has traveled from the North Pole to Outer Space and been present in both WWI and WWII as a necessary ration.

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list of books, rather the core of what was used for the Trivia in this blog and what was featured in our program last year.  Be sure to follow up for more great chocolate related reads in Savour: Chocolate Tasting.

Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power…it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.” — Justus Von Liebig 1803-1873 (German Chemist)

Formats Available:  Book

Article by Angel, Bon Air Branch

American Gods: A Perusal

american godsWhy a perusal? What follows is less analysis or discussion, and more introspective meandering. I am continually drawn back to Gaiman’s work because he has a special ability to provoke thought and poke at parts of the psyche often caged by the super-ego. Ironically, I’m not sure this is his goal for anyone but himself. This is a central trait that inhabits all his work from children’s chapter books to horror graphics, and is the marrow that draws me back time and again.

I was frustrated by my inability to corral my galloping thoughts about this novel, so I decided to visit Gaiman’s website. I rarely do this, as I’m easily distracted or derailed by other people’s thoughts and insights. I prefer to plumb my own depths before I introduce myself to another’s. It’s less hubris and more an acknowledgment of my inability to stay focused on any one thing for any length of time. Thoughts and impressions are ephemeral and it’s too easy to lose them to the onslaught of external stimuli.

On his site, a letter describing “a weird sprawling picaresque epic, which starts out relatively small and gets larger” provided the psychological implosion necessary to draw all my thoughts together so they could flow outward in an orderly way. And reminded me, not so coincidentally, we sometimes must stop throwing ourselves against the altar of singular perspective to unlock our minds.

picaresquePicaresque novels are epic, labyrinthine, satirical journeys of lowborn adventurers striving to survive as they move through the panoply of geographical and social settings. This is similar, in process, to a Bildungsroman, but more often viewed as the realistic counterpoint to medieval romances. Another way to sum it up is the journey of every/any man through the many truths of life. Viewing the picaresque in this way is how my mind was able to pull the idea of traveling from ignorance to wisdom from the jumble of my thoughts. From there I finally had a recognizable path.

I took me a while to connect with this novel. In retrospect, I think my sporadic yet enduring study of mythology, religion, and philosophy trapped me in existing paradigms. To understand the new paradigm, I had to place myself in the story in different roles. Shadow was the hardest character for me. Shadow’s frequent acquiescence put me off and confused me. His willingness to just “go with the flow” was aggravating in the extreme. I wanted him to be smarter and stronger than he seemed.

Then I finally began to perceive his journey. I realized in increments that he wasn’t acceding, he was flowing as he journeyed and became wiser. My patience was duly rewarded when Shadow performed the vigil for Wednesday and hung upon the world tree. Although his reasons are muddied by the contract he signed with Wednesday, Shadow ultimately performs this right of sacrifice for himself. And like Odin he is rewarded with knowledge and wisdom.

All the pieces of his journey flow through his trials as he hangs upon the tree. He realizes truths that were hidden by his apprehension; he finds answers to nagging questions; and faces the parts of himself buried in guilt and shame. In the end he lets it all go and embraces nothing. But as another character tells Shadow, there are no endings, not even for one who has given up everything and accepted nothing. Shadow is pulled back from nothing, he is resurrected and reborn. Rebirth means growth, and a shift in everything that was before.poetic edda

Shadow insists he lost most of what he gained while hanging on the world tree, but he was “fertilized and became wiser” like Odin in Hávamál from the Poetic Edda. This richness and wisdom showed itself in the culminating moments of the novel. He is something and someone new. Unsure of his future, yet rejuvenated, he strikes out on a new path.

I know I am being achingly vague; but, I can’t really discuss more without inserting major spoilers for those who haven’t read the novel yet.

Life is labyrinthine in nature. We are born with only instinct, everything else is acquired through exposure to our environment, the people within it, and the paradigms that shape both. Much of our journey, in living, can be described as wandering interspersed with epochs of emotion or insight. And great successes are often bought with personal sacrifice of some sort. This process is even more tumultuous in American life, because we are an effervescent nation. We are unrepressed, elastic and transitory. We are always moving forward, always evolving. Like Shadow we journey, die and are reborn, a new incarnation of America.

Like the gods in Gaiman’s story, American generations are not always as elastic as our country as a whole. Older generations eschew the harried pace of the younger generations. The younger generations roll their eyes at the antiquated thinking and methodology of the older generations. Luckily there are always middle generations that referee and blend the generations together. Shadow is America as whole, but he is also the middle generation. Wonderfully, I also perceived that Shadow is not just any generation, he is Generation X.

genx

A succinct Pew Research Center article conveyed, “Gen Xers are a low-slung, straight-line bridge between two noisy behemoths.” Now that isn’t terribly different of middle generations over the span of human history, as the article points out; but, Gen Xers are wedged between two generations revered and dissected. Like Shadow, Gen Xers are rarely celebrated, yet at the center of all the brouhaha. Perhaps Generation X, like Shadow, is the eye of the storm, the calm spot. This too fits with what the Pew article says about Generation X. When asked if our generation is more unique than others only half of us said yes. And we couldn’t quite sum up what made us different.

You’ve come this far with me, so let’s stretch just a little further. Generation X has hung upon the world tree, and we’ve absorbed the knowledge of the past and present. We can’t quite define how this makes us special, and we’re not sure we’ve kept everything we’ve learned, but we are definitely different. We’ve made sacrifices big and small to move forward. And even when we feel we’ve reached the end and have settled for nothing, we somehow keep coming back reinvigorated and ready to move forward.

Reading is so very invigorating! Look how far my brain went, how many connections I made after reading just one excellent novel. It led me back to mythology favorites and forward to internet articles. It took me from a war between gods to Generation X. And these are just the thoughts I managed to force into cohesion. There are countless other fermenting somewhere in my mind.

AmericanGodzTVSpeaking of fermenting, the STARZ network is brewing up a television series featuring Shadow in American Gods. The Nerdist reports that Neil Gaiman is working with producers and will be writing some of the episodes. I am both hopeful and fearful. I have high hopes that the series will be a hit and have a long run. But I’m always fearful when a book or series I love is put to screen. The casting alone is rife with possible missteps.

My personal vision of Shadow is a guy who is a blend of Omari Hardwick, Vin Diesel, and Jason Momoa. Because that’s not a tall order at all, right? In all seriousness though, I truly hope they find someone who isn’t already a big star. Shadow is a bit of a blank slate at the beginning of our story. It would be nice to have an actor who is as well.

As to blank slates, I think I’m blank for the moment. I seem to have reached the end of this picaresque perusal. I’ve even managed, like Shadow, to end with a beginning.

Ta ta for now!

Article by Angel, Bon Air Branch

When Hell Freezes Over and the Devil’s Inside

We’re launching a new book discussion group here at Bon Air, beginning September 24 at 7 p.m.  Our selections will cater to ages 15-25 but slightly older adults are welcome.  The club will generally feature Older Teen and Adult Fiction with young adult characters ranging from 15 to 25-ish.

 

IcedMoning

In the spirit of new beginnings I decided to choose two books that I had not previously read.  September’s selection is Iced: A Dani O’Malley Novel.  This book is set firmly in the middle of the ongoing popular Fever series by Karen Marie Moning.  It is the first book told from the perspective of Dani O’Malley, a rather unusual 14 year old in a world gone mad.  If you haven’t read the series, don’t despair.  This book can be read as a stand-alone.

Bodacious fairies and dark evil things that go bump in the night have hemorrhaged over into our reality.  Unfortunately, pretty much all of them are monsters and they think humans are tasty morsels. But even in the midst of monsters and mayhem, relationships and people who “care” may just be the most dangerous thing around.

Dani’s number one prerogative is to keep the people of Dublin safe. Number two is to stay free.  Not-quite-human club owner Ryodan manages to blackmail Dani into helping him solve a mystery that threatens not only his business, but all of Dublin.  To that end he keeps her under his thumb.  Dani’s number one makes her want to help, but her number two makes her resistant and bitter.

Despite the despicable means by which their partnership is formed the two characters forge ahead to find out how and why something is freezing humans and evil creatures alike.  The frozen venues are barely approachable by supernatural ilk.   And for some reason, they keep exploding.

Dublin was already the seventh circle of Hell but now it’s frozen over.  Will our reluctant heroine save the day?  Only the book will tell.

Formats Available:  Audiobook, Book, eBook

 

HornsbyHill

October’s selection is Horns by Joe Hill and we will meet on October 29 at 7 p.m.  I swear on my library card that I didn’t know this book had a movie being released on October 31st.  Just days after I picked this book, I was thumbing through my various “social” addictions…I mean appswhen I spotted a video box with Daniel Radcliffe’s face.

“Hmmm, wonder what that is?”   Imagine my surprise when I click the play button like a good little monkey and I’m treated to an early sneak preview of Horns!  “Yes! ” I mentally shouted, while I did a little spastic dance around the room.  Luckily the only witnesses were my family and they’re used to my strange silent outbursts.

My family waited patiently for me to explain.  When I told them that Daniel Ratcliff was playing the lead of a great philosophical horror story, my teens all began clamoring in protest, “You can’t do that to Harry Potter! That’s just wrong.”   I laughed, perhaps a little bit maniacally, and told them that Daniel Radcliffe could play any character he desired, even a devil!

WARNING!!!  This book will may make you squirm.

The beginning chapters of this story are dark and graphic.  The main character, Ig (Ignatius) Perrish, has been living in a town where everyone thinks he raped and murdered his high school sweetheart, Merrin.  He didn’t kill her.  He loved her so deeply, he is lost without her.

Unable to cope with the anniversary of Merrin’s death, Ig drinks himself into such a stupor that he can’t remember the previous evening when he awakens the next morning.  Of course, he knows almost immediately that he must have done something really, really bad.  The horns sprouting out of his head are dead giveaway.

Ig’s first reaction is to think he’s hallucinating, but his current girlfriend, quickly disabuses him of that notion when she affirms that she can see them.  As if that weren’t bad enough, she immediately begins to divulge her darkest urges and thoughts. Ig flees.  He moves from person to person looking for help or absolution, but each encounter just leaves him more sickened and shell-shocked.

Slowly Ig begins to realize that he can influence people.  He can’t make them do something they don’t want to do.  But if the urge is tucked away inside somewhere, Ig can coax it out.  When Ig finds out who truly killed Merrin he begins to actively used the horns and his new strange powers.

He wants justice and revenge, so he embraces the devil inside.  Does that make him evil?  You’ll have to decide for yourself, once you read the book.

Formats Available:  Audiobook, Book

Reviews by Angel, Bon Air Branch