Typically, each of my chocolate photoshoots (which usually take place on Saturday afternoons) net between 4-8 photos.  My goal is a minimum of two shots of each chocolate (wrapped) and one shot unwrapped (providing the
chocolate didn’t melt in transit, and also provided the mold the maker used was unique enough).

Every time, I find myself saving a few “outtake” photos that are just too good to delete, and going through those now I found a rather accurate picture-by-picture portrayal of the “behind the scenes of a chocolate photoshoot”.

True, if I fast-forwarded to the end, there are photos like this:

Pump Street Bakery Ecuador 60% Dark Milk Chocolate

(Pictured: Pump Street Bakery – Ecuador 60% Dark Milk)  (Due to ordering it in the winter and thanks to Caputo’s stellar packaging, this bar arrived practically pristine!)

But during the entire process, lots of stuff happens.

Things get broken.

99.9% of the time, this candle was used to tack down one of the four corners of the foam mat backdrops I use for 99.9% of my pictures. The other 0.1% of the time it actually got to be in the photo itself. Then one day it got a little too close to the edge of the table and well… It’s gone now.  (Though if I would have thought there was a creative way to showcase glass shards and chocolate together I probably would have kept it…)

Half the outdoors comes indoors with me.

Behind The Scenes of a Chocolate Photoshoot - Venezuelan National Tree

Armed with clippers (and sometimes a basket or a tray), I often can be seen snipping this tree or trimming that bush and bringing in flowers, blooms, and branches. (Apparently I’m not very particular, because I’ve also brought in cactus, berries that may or may not have been poisonous, and an invasive vine*.  I think the purple-tinted burr bushes may be next.)  A few weeks ago some glossy yellow-green neem pods caught my eye and when coming back inside my comment was something along the lines of, “I didn’t know how many sprigs I would need…  So I brought back the whole tree.”

My photography set-up gets hijacked.

While the white background and camera are out, I get asked if it would be possible to work in a few pictures of arduino parts. (Yes, I realize asking nicely doesn’t exactly equal hijacking, but hijacking sounds more dramatic, and I am known for being a little dramatic.)  Sometimes a mini arduino photoshoot includes the meticulous process of taping everything down with double-sided tape.  On the plus side, one can be meticulous with such things without worrying about them melting (unlike my subjects)!

Then there are the hijinks.

Because apparently it’s funny to come in with whatever one happens to be carrying at the time and stick in the shot to see how I react.  This particular time it was a pair of pliers. Other times anything from a phone to a tongue have suddenly photo-bombed my chocolate.

At the end of the day?

Behind The Scenes of a Chocolate Photoshoot - End of Day

It’s a mess.  Everything ends up jumbled together in my hurry to get as much done as possible, and, as always, get.it.done.before.the.chocolate.melts.  It’s a colorful interesting mess, but a mess nonetheless.

There’s even more that goes on behind the scenes of a chocolate photoshoot.  The photo of someone (very dramatically) “passed out” on my floor after trying their first Lindt truffle comes to mind (they really liked it!), but I have a feeling I’d be in more than a little ‘trouble’ if I posted that photo, so…use your imagination!

*That invasive vine I mentioned just happens to be in the Pump Street Bakery photo above.  I thought it was rather pretty.

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Whenever articles are written about the 5 or 10 or however-many best bean-to-bar/craft/artisan chocolates, I’ve noticed that Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco always makes the cut. Photos of their bars encased in thick gold-embossed paper wrappers often show up in my Instagram/Twitter feeds, and, not long ago, Dandelion expanded and opened several locations in Japan.

It was high time to pick a Dandelion to see what the fuss was all about.

Dandelion Chocolate Still Life Photo

Dandelion’s two-ingredient bars feature beans from different origins. I picked their Mantuano bar because the beans are grown in Venezuela, and I happen to be partial to Venezuelan beans.

Having a Dandelion bar in-house was exciting, but even the good press didn’t guarantee it VP treatment.  In the end, it dutifully waited its turn just like all the other chocolate at my house until it got its moment in the sun. Correction: Half an hour in the sun (by the time I was done with it).  By then it was the *perfect* tasting consistency.

My first bite certainly didn’t evoke any memories of chocolate consumed long ago during my childhood, because I don’t recall ever eating fine dark chocolate until a few years ago.  (The normal chocolates of my youth was Hersheys, an occasional box of Russel Stover, and chocolate chips (dipped out from a 5lb bag from Sam’s Club!). Instead, the taste on my tongue was a subtle twist on the “new normal”; what I call “grown up” chocolate, the knock-your-socks-off vibrancy of beans that have different flavor profiles instead of always tasting the same.

Found on the wrapper: “In this bar, we taste notes of classic dark chocolate, roasted almonds, and espresso.” My untrained tongue did not pick up on any of the roasted almond notes, but there were most definitely hints of espresso.  (It is actually quite amazing how many dark chocolates have coffee notes, despite not containing any coffee.)

High Time to Pick a Dandelion Chocolate

This is CHOCOLATE.  No flavorings, no emulsifiers.   All it takes to be an awesome chocolate is cocoa beans & sugar, carefully selected and ground and conched and tempered and packaged.

I understand the hype now.

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I’ve managed to (temporarily) pull myself away from reading about chocolate, photographing chocolate, and trying new chocolate (like Durci and Pump Street Bakery), to actually write about & show you a chocolate… namely Escazu’s Goat Milk bar.

I had the pleasure of trying this a few months ago.  (Yes, I’m that behind on my writing.)  (And yes, it is still true that nothing inside or outside my house is safe from my camera.  Including cactus.)

Escazu Goat Milk Chocolate

This bar is a 60% dark chocolate with goats milk, and, as with most bars of Venezuelan origin, it ended up making me giggle whenever I introduced it to my friends.  Why?  It just strikes me as funny that the beans went all the way from Venezuela to North Carolina to be made into chocolate bars, and then the chocolate bars went all the way to Oregon (among other places) to be sold, and then this particular bar came all the way back to Venezuela (albeit not the Carenero region) to be eaten.

Taste: Slightly tangy with a luxurious mouthfeel.  This was my first taste of goats milk chocolate and I liked it.

I need to publicly go on the record that I am NEVER TOUCHING CACTUSES CACTI AGAIN.  Maybe that will help me to remember.  I keep thinking that somehow *this time* I will manage not to touch the certain strategic spots that shed microscopic spiny hairs that so easily burrow into fingers and feet (don’t ask). Yet, every time, without fail, my promise to be very very careful always ends up with tears and tweezers involved.  Well, at least tweezers.

Don’t even get me started on the time I was 14 and somebody informed me that if the ripe cactus fruit was peeled properly that none of aforementioned microscopic hairs would end up in my mouth.  Either they were very wrong or the fruit was very incorrectly peeled.   While this particular cactus fruit is rather tasty, it was certainly not worth the evening of trying to get pricklies out.of.my.tongue.

We also have cacti that reach out and jump and attach themselves to any part of you that gets too close (Really!  I am practically not making this up), barrel cacti that have the cutest smooth-skinned pink fruits that taste sort of like kiwi (which are safe to eat, even if you don’t own tweezers), and…

Wait.  This is not a site about cactus.  It is about chocolate.

Escazu Goat Milk Chocolate Unwrapped

Escazu bars are available on multiple sites that sell craft chocolate.  I purchased mine via Chocolopolis. Come to think of it, Escazu chocolate more than likely available …let me check….yep…directly from the Escazu website.  Of course, if you happen to be in Raleigh, North Carolina, it might be easier (and lots more fun!) to visit the Escazu store itself.  Judging by their Instagram/Twitter feeds, there are also truffles and confections.

And ICE CREAM.

#notapaidadvertisement #justlovedtheirchocolate #andapparentlyIloverattlingonaboutcactusestoo

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You heard me.  Everyone wants me to have a meltdown. In fact, everyone I know wouldn’t mind if I had a meltdown every single week.

But it is not as bad as it sounds.  By meltdown, they don’t mean a hissy fit or dissolving into tears.  Instead, it means they’re waiting for me to literally melt down something brown and sweet and…yes, you knew this was going to involve chocolate somehow.

(Suddenly I am reminded of Rilla of Ingleside and her supposed overuse of italics. I always thought her use of italics was spot on.)

In short, me having a meltdown is code for me making fudge. Or chocolate mint thins.  Or truffles.  Naturally, there is photo evidence of my latest meltdown.

Everyone Wants Me to Have a Meltdown

Peanut butter truffles.   Yes, they are having a very bad hair day (or whatever you say when truffles start sweating because they don’t like the temperature of the photography studio place where I take photos).

The initial plan was to keep all the truffles. After all, it was a four day weekend (plenty of time for plenty of truffles) and there are some definite peanut-butter-lovers in my family (including the dog, who gets to lick the empty jar).  Yet somehow two truffles here and two truffles there went off to new homes and before I knew it there were ten missing. To any concerned parties who thought we were shorted on account of my unapologetic sharing tendencies, we STILL had plenty.  (But yes, I will make you more.  On your birthday.  Which I cannot be fooled into thinking is in March.)

Want to have your own meltdown?  I have some tips:

  • Always melt more chocolate than you think you’re going to need.  Because you can make all sorts of things with the leftovers.
  • Never let anybody watch you handle the chocolate because they will start marveling how it is possible for one person to leave chocolate on so many surfaces.
  • Also never let anyone know you are making anything because they will show up with puppy dog eyes begging for chunks of chocolate or truffle centers.
  • Always make sure there is room in the freezer/fridge BEFORE standing there with messy hands and a full sized pizza pan laden with truffles, wondering where you’re going to put it.
  • And last but not least…either portion off truffles so everyone has their own container, or insist on being around to divvy them up.

‘Cause otherwise they’re gone.

Ps.  The peanut butter truffle recipe is from Use Real Butter.

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“Waaaaaaait just one second,” I can hear you saying.  “Chocolate Recycling? How is that even possible?! Hasn’t she ever heard there are no recipes for leftover chocolate?” Yep. I have.  (Despite Googling just now and finding that to be a total untruth.)  But hear me out.  Part of my recycling story doesn’t involve chocolate itself, and part of my story involves the extra chocolate I melt with the express purpose of having enough leftover to “recycle” into my current favorite “I-made-it-myself” chocolate: Mint Thins

Chocolate Recycling - Homemade Mint Thins

These are incredibly simple and incredibly delicious.  They’re admittedly not the prettiest chocolates in the world, but I could round up at least a dozen people who would testify to the fact that the taste was good enough to make up for what these chocolates lack in the looks department.

Today’s post is brought to you today by the letter E (for Easy) and the number 2 (for the amount of ingredients needed).

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This, my friends, is the reigning champion of white chocolate in the entire world. Bar none.  Pun intended.

‘Icoa’ by El Rey.  (Here I go making chocolate sound like fine perfume again…)

Voted the best plain/origin white chocolate bar five times in a row by the International Chocolate Awards and very recently listed as one of the best white chocolates by Saveur, it ended up being a real treat to have this bar in my possession.

Obtaining it wasn’t the piece of cake I thought it was going to be.  Chocolates El Rey is local.  Pop into any large bodegon and there El Rey is.  Which is technically true.  That is, if you’re looking for 41% Caoba.  Or 58.5% Bucare.  Or 61% “Mijao, 70% Gran Saman, or 73.5% Apamate.  (I kid you not with the extra five tenths of a percent. I’m not making them up.)

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These wolves with the almost chocolate-brown-colored eyes posed beautifully.

Endanged Species Cranberry Almond Chocolate

However, there were still some hiccups when it came to getting this photo taken.

First, the cranberries kept disappearing.  It must have been the wolves’ fault.  Nobody else was around, yet I guarantee you the bowl of cranberries was noticeably less full at the end of the photoshoot than it was at the beginning.

Second, let it be known that glitter and fans do.not.play.nice.together.  (I certainly remembered in a hurry after turning the fan on!)

On the plus side, everything was sparkly by the end of the day and there was an abundance of Endangered Species Cranberry Almond Chocolate to savor.

And in my opinion, you can’t go wrong with sparkly and plenty of chocolate!

Alter Eco Quinoa Dark Chocolate

What’s gluten free, fair trade, organic, and very tasty? Alter Eco Quinoa Dark Chocolate.

Am I the only one that has pronounced quinoa wrong all their life?  I grew up thinking it was “quinn-NO-ah”.  Then recently I started hearing about this new gluten-free super-seed food called “keen-wah” and, lo and behold, it turns out they’re the same thing.

Most people associate quinoa with “health foods” and therefore may automatically assume it doesn’t taste very good, but there’s good news.    Quinoa is not one of those “pinch-your-nose-and-swallow-fast” foods.   I find it easily adaptable to many dishes, and toasted quinoa adds a perfect crunch to this 60% dark chocolate.

I absconded with a few spoonfuls of quinoa from the fridge for the purpose of taking this photograph.  A month later, I was still finding quinoa in my room.  (My sister would say that that would tell you how well I do…or do not…clean my room, but I am telling you, a few pieces of that quinoa had terrific hiding skills.  Because I DID sweep.  I’m almost positive every time I swept I could hear the quinoa running behind the furniture giggling at their skill at avoiding me.)

Me? Have a vivid imagination?  What gives you that idea?

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I was getting ready to tell you about Thanksgiving.   (All the way back in November.  Although it’s the middle of December.  Apparently it’s taken me that long to recover.)

But first, in honor of Chocolate Covered Anything Day, I made this little collage of, well, chocolate covered everything:

Nontraditional Thanksgiving Foods & Chocolate Covered Everything

All pictures are my own.  All opinions are also my own:

Chocolate Covered Bacon:  Fun for something different.
Chocolate Covered Oreos:  Yes.  Oh yes.  Just don’t try this at home.  You might eat too many oreos.  (I didn’t, but I can see how it could happen quite easily!)
Chocolate Covered Potato Chips:  This tasted about the same as the bacon, just not as chewy.
Chocolate Covered Coconut:  Delicious.
Chocolate Covered Celery:  Nope.  Don’t do it.  (I knew it wouldn’t like it.  I did it for the picture, not because I thought it would be incredibly tasty or the next big craze.)
Chocolate Covered Apples:  Also Delicious
Chocolate Covered Pineapple: Very Delicious

Now back to Thanksgiving….

…which usually brings to mind foods like turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie, cranberry sauce, and that stuff that some people cook in the turkey (and some people don’t) that some people call stuffing and some people call dressing.  My family was confusing the issue by calling it both.  Next year we should combine the two and call it “stressing”.  🙂

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…but I am celebrating with CAKE.  <grin>   (Chocolate cake, OF COURSE.)

Call me a rebel, call me what you will,
say I’m old fashioned, say I’m over the hill…
(#oldiesmusiclover)

(Yes.  Apparently I am one of those people who mishear lyrics.  All of this time I thought that line from Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll was “call me a rebel”, until I just went & looked it up to make sure I was quoting it correctly.  I was not.  It is really supposed to be “call me a relic”.  I left it as “rebel” because I’ve been singing that way for years, because it fit my purpose better, and because I’m not the only one who thought it was “rebel”. 🙂

my-birthday-is-on-nationa-cookie-day-triple-chocolate-cookies-from-delectably-different-kitchen
These cookies?  Triple Chocolate Cookies from Delectably Different Kitchen.  (They were GOOD.)  Don’t miss the cute recipe video on Youtube!

Cookies and I go way, way back.  Chocolate chocolate chip cookies, cookies that (you might want to close your eyes during this part) don’t actually contain chocolate (lemon cookies or raspberry jam thumbprint sugar cookies are two of my favorites), and of course, regular chocolate chip cookies.  (Strange fact: I don’t make chocolate chip cookies. I EAT chocolate chip cookies, but gave up making them a long time ago.  This stems from the fact they always used to turn out crispy when they were supposed to be chewy.)

There’s just something about cookies.  They’re small enough to have several (unless you live in Seattle – I’ve heard tell of cookies the size of plates in Seattle), great for sharing, can by made in a myriad of flavors…

Someday if I ever have enough craft chocolate I’d like to make special chocolate chunk cookies.  Think: A sugar cookie base liberally studded with Ritual Novo Coffee or Taza Toffee, Almond, & Sea Salt, or any of dozens of other mouthwatering options.   Sounds amazing to me!

Are you celebrating (Inter)National Cookie Day properly (a.k.a. with actual cookies)?  If so, what kind?

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I bring you the latest chocolate happenings…or at least the latest chocolate happenings that amused me, made me slightly sad, made me go “hmmm”….

First, allow me to present my latest favorite chocolate-and-tea-photograph.The Latest Chocolate Happenings - Celestial Seasoings Tea & Chocolate Still Life Photo

Pictured: Orange peels covered in dark chocolate by St. Moritz & Celestial Seasonings fruit tea sampler.  (I love this sampler, though it is hard to choose between wild berry, true blueberry, country peach passion, raspberry zinger, and wild cherry berry.)

The latest chocolate news that made me go hmmmm….

MycoTechnology Uses Mushrooms to Create Sweeter Chocolate With Less Sugar

“By using gourmet mushrooms and their natural cleansing abilities, we are able to train them to consume only the bitter compounds in chocolate,” the company explains on its website. “The mushrooms symbiotically interact with their food source, giving back valuable nutrients otherwise unavailable in chocolate.”

In other words, we will be able to eat more chocolate.  Because there will be less sugar.  Because some mushrooms took special eating classes.  Ok then.  As long as the taste of the mushroom chocolate is in no wise compromised by the mushrooms themselves (and apparently it isn’t, as “they can make great tasting chocolate”) I’m game for trying it!

The latest chocolate news I got quite a chuckle out of:

The Toblerone debacle (as I call it). If you missed all the fuss, it boils down to the fact that Toblerone, when faced with rising production costs, decided to *gasp* widen the gap between each triangle “mountain” shape they are so famous for (therefore reducing the amount of chocolate per bar).

Twitter went crazy.  A search on #Toblerone provided several chuckles.

Apparently this switch means I may be the unexpected owner of two “limited edition” Toblerone bars that could be worth a lot of money if I hang on to them long enough.  (Which isn’t likely.)  (I say “may”, because I haven’t rustled through my chocolate drawer yet to see if the size I have was affected by the new design.  In all the uproar, not everyone realized that not nearly all Toblerone sizes were affected.)

The latest chocolate happening that made me a little sad:

The Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, which wrapped this Sunday (if I have the story straight).  Judging by a slew of Instagram posts, it was one of THE, if not THE, chocolate events of the year (at least in the U.S.).  Quite a few people came away with quite impressive hauls of craft chocolate (Exhibit A and Exhibit B, to name a few) and it looks like great fun was had by all (meeting the people behind the brands, meeting the chocolate aficionados, tasting all that amazing chocolate)…  I am a little sorry to have missed it, but I most certainly enjoyed all the photos.  I saw SO many brands I have yet to try & so many brands that I have tried once and loved (TCHO, Dick Taylor, Amano, etc.)

(One of the) Latest chocolate(s) I tried for the first time:

Alter Eco Dark Chocolate with Quinoa.  While I enjoyed the crunchy dark chocolate itself, I had a blast taking pictures of it.  (Let’s just say by the time I was finished, my mom wouldn’t have wanted the quinoa I “borrowed” back.)  Pictures are coming as soon as I finish sweeping up quinoa from the far corners of my room…

That’s all for now…

 

Alaina Cursive Signature

 

 

 

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