Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pain's devouring and the earth's finest

Since April illness has struck my family; I can almost imagine Apollo's arrows flying overhead. I was the first victim with a back injury, then as I began to get better, my wife's chronic back condition flared up. She continues to be riddled with pain and in the meantime her mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer and her grandmother has passed away. There is little one can do in these times but adapt. I now do most of the household duties and have had a difficult time completing my other work. The upside is I've gotten to spend more time with my family and I've been exploring new tastes since I now do all the shopping.

I have invested heavily in stimulants to combat my tiredness. One of my favourites is chocolate and I've tried many types: Chocolate Santander produces high quality single-origin bars; I have not been disappointed with any of their bars. The website has a graphic for each bar, which breaks down the flavours of each bar (this one's from the 70 percent cacao):

For an extra kick I turn to the 70% with Coffee Bits, although it does have a bitter after-taste. The 53%, my favorite, has a smooth caramel flavour and rich creamy texture.

OrganicFair is produced much closer to home in Cobble Hill. They have a much wider array of offerings, yet despite compelling combinations, some varieties remain inferior to other products. For instance, Chiapas with cinnamon, cardamom, and chipotle chile does not compare with Cocoa Camino's Chili & Spice. While Camino achieves a balance of flavours with one flavour complementing the next, the bitter chocolate and chile flavours in OrganicFair's offering overpowers the cinnamon and cardamom so much they are barely perceptible. Similar failings inhibit the Provence bar with lavender, rosemary, and sweet orange: these flavours are barely discernible. Although I admire their innovative flavour pairings, it does little good when the flavours do not balance each other. Fortunately, this is not the case with all their products. They achieve perfection with the Westcoaster, toasted hazelnuts and wild blueberries; here the rich smooth chocolate asserts its dominance, then the blueberries, and last the hazelnuts. A pleasant aftertaste lingers on the palate, which compels one toward further measured consumption. In Sakura, the only other bar in the Nuts and Berries category, bitter chocolate draws out the tangy crispness of candied ginger and rich sweetness of sundried cherries.

Unlike the above companies which only use organic and fairly traded ingredients, NewTree has not embraced this level of corporate responsibility. Despite this lack of foresight, they do produce a polished and delicious product, which catchy names, such as Crave, Vigor, and Blush, and an endorsement by Oprah don't belie. The blackcurrents in Renew burst on to a backdrop of rich buttery cocoa and the hint of lemon in Forgiveness cleanses the palate with each bite. Refresh is the only dark chocolate bar that disappoints: the mint just doesn't mix well with the choice of chocolate. The milk chocolate bars also have vibrant flavours, but these bars are sweet, condensed milk sweet. Although the apricot in Crave and cinnamon in Cocoon complement the sweetness, I have to be in the right mood to enjoy them.

Zazubean's flashy names like Flirt and Lunatic and promising flavour combinations attract, but don't deliver. When I tried Flirt, acai and cherries, I expected an experience comparable to the Westcoaster; however the tart, fresh berries were undermined by bland flat chocolate. The cherries were hardly noticeable. Although I would like to see Zazubean prosper given their corporate responsibility and use of high quality products, I am somewhat hesitant to try further varieties.

Whenever I'm in the chocolate aisle and unsure of what to pick, I turn to my longstanding favourites Terra Nostra and Bjornsted. Terra Nostra's Raisins and Pecans bar brings back the flavour of the Cadbury Fruit and Nut bar which I enjoyed as a kid, but no longer enjoy (I swear the chocolate was better and there were much more raisins and nuts in each bar). Their Double Dark Truffle has a rich soft centre nestled in a crisp shell. For a plain dark chocolate bar it's hard to top Bjornsted's Dark Chocolate bar; sweet bitterness is not a contradiction.

For ice cream sundays, chocolate milk or iced-coffees look no further than Wilderness Family Naturals' Raw Chocolate Syrup; with only two ingredients, organic agave nectar and cacao powder, the health benefits match the deep flavour and rich texture. A delectable iced-coffee can be made by mixing 1 cup of ice, a handful of blueberries, 2 shots of expresso, a tablespoon of Raw Chocolate Syrup and a cup of vanilla ice cream in a blender.

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