Thursday, December 13, 2012

All we want to do is

It's relentless. Even my go-to song isn't working. That's my most insidious,  earwormy song, the one I only use when I'm desperate because it's also pretty sticky (and no I'm not telling you what it is) so it's the heavy for kicking out songs that have a solid hold of my --

eat your brains. We're not

Arg. Maybe if watch it just one more time, I can shake it off.

unreasonable, I mean, no one's gonna eat yer eyes. All we want to do

Is to eat my brains, I know.

is eat your brains! We're 
I've thanked the friend who sent it to me and he laughed at me. Maybe he's already a zombie.

at an impasse here

I am fascinated not only by the video but by my fascination. Sure, the contrast beteween the catchy lyrics and up-beat tune, a zombie signing ASL, spewing office-speak -- it's all delightfully incongruous, besides --

maybe we should compromise

-- I did study ASL and the best way to reinforce language is with song, the way we did as children, so maybe that's where the thing is --

if you open up the doors

-- grabbing my attention. Attention!  Not brains! Not brains!

we'll all come inside


and eat your brains!

I give up. A little late to the scene, but I'm there.

Haven't seen it yet?  Consider this warning. But go ahead and watch it. Why I should suffer alone? We like company.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brain Train -- Woo!

It's a pun.  I'll explain in a moment.

We serious insomniacs -- the no messin' around totally committed kind -- know life as days of unpredictable exhaustion and nights as endless battles. As we mature we come to accept that well-meaning non-insomniac friends will inevitably suggest earplugs, meds, naps, foods, removing foods, no coffee, coffee, no chocolate, chocolate, sleep studies, and the ever-popular "if you're tired, why don't you just sleep?".

binaural beats require stereo headphones
binaural beats require stereo
We know things, we insomniacs: we know we can't win, we can't quit, and we can't break even. We dread the night.

But we can't give up the dream that some day, when tired, we could just, you know, sleep.

So when I find something that helps, even a little, it's cause for real celebration.

A month ago I tried binaural beats again. I dove into this odd little sound-hack, and downloaded a handful of apps, most of them free. I started building my own.

The idea is this: you've got tones at different frequencies in each ear and the delta between them is a "beat" that correlates to specific brain waves. So, goes the theory, if you start with a normal wakeful beat frequency of, say 30hz, and you move that down to, say 3hz, your brain goes from beta to theta, and you go to sleep. This transition is called "entrainment." (There's your pun. Brain. Train. Woo.)

I didn't expect it to work. I tried it years ago and it hadn't really clicked.  We insomniacs get cynical. But we are also persistent -- we'll try anything once. Or twice, or even three times. Just in case.

It worked.

It's been a month or so, and I'm sitting on top of some seriously improved sleep. It's hard to explain to my more normal friends how exceptionally cool this is. How amazing it is to just lie down and sleep.


Or win, as the kids say.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The 2012 NW Chocolate Festival and More

That chocolate festival you missed last month in Seattle? Here's my review at Chocolate Atlas

And here, for extra added specialness, are all the links to barsmiths I mentioned in that review that aren’t there due to publisher restrictions:
Lastly, here is the list of award winners for chocolately excellence determined by a blind panel of judges (not a panel of blind judges, come on): One Golden Ticket's Northwest Chocolate Festival Awards

Friday, October 12, 2012


I had a tetanus booster a bit ago.  The doctor and nurse had to talk me into it.

I vividly remember my last one, some ten years ago and yeah the one before that, too. I remember keenly that it hurt so bad, just getting the shot, never mind the ongoing pain, for days and days. Sore arm, deep resentment. Like that.

But the world moves on, things change, and something weird happened this last time. It didn't hurt. Not the shot, not the arm, and not the next day.

A new formula, the nurse said. And I'm really good at giving shots, too, she added smugly. But no matter how good you are at giving shots, tetanus shots usually hurts like someone is shoving paper cuts into your veins.

Not this time.  The world has... changed. And my resistance and resentment along with it. It was no big deal. Just another simple, nearly painless shot, by a smug and competent nurse.

So then, rubbing my arm, amazed at how it didn't hurt, I felt slightly bad for having growled at them when they first suggested it.  I sometimes growl when I feel threatened. Started happening when I started learning to speak Dog.

"Sorry I growled at you," I mumbled to the doctor.

"No problem!" She said brightly. "And now you're good for another ten years!"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

While you Were Out

As an early adopter of email (seriously early -- early like "what is email?" early), an avid IMer, and an enthusiastic SMSer, I luxuriate in the certain knowledge that anyone who needs to contact me can do it.  When I walk away from my (primary) computer, my phone provides this certainty, allowing me to leave home without that nagging feeling -- remember those days? -- that someone might call, write or text and I might miss it.

You youngers don't realize what it was like with phones attached to walls. Before answering machines and voice mail when you missed a call it was missed forever.  No caller ID, no call-back, no clue. Tough.

I remember hearing the phone ring through the door, struggling with the key to get the door open, and diving for the damned thing only to have it stop.

"Hello? Hello?"

Then hours of wondering who it might have been. How your life might have been different if only you'd come home a few seconds earlier.

You start calling people. "Hey, did you just call?  No? Oh, okay. Fine. You?"

Along came answering machines. Along came the Internet. Along came cell phones. Now my cell phone *is* the internet. And everything else, too.

I can glance at my phone and know, without question, that no one called, wrote, texted, tweeted, or facebooked me.

Finally, I have certainty. It's like being free, only a lot noisier.

And then I went camping in the Mojave desert. No cell towers. No internet. Completely cut off from email, voice, SMS.

Wow.  Serious wow.

If someone needed me, they would have to wait.  Think about it: if it's not important, it can wait. If it is important, it still has to wait.

For a handful of days I traded that certainty for a smoky, crackling fire, the coyote pack over the rise, nights of relentless cricket serenades, and a sliver of moon in a white river of star-drenched sky.

Something interesting happened: I had silence. Beautiful, exquisite, deep silence. No phone, no voices, no words.  No noise.

I've heard about people choosing to take a night a week internet-free to reconnect to what it is to not be connected. But there is a huge difference between trying to stay away from the net and phones -- the lines of chatter -- and being forced to.

While I was out I also gained a fine appreciation for the luxury of running water. Add to the list: shelter, soap, privacy. We don't need these things, and they are indeed luxuries.

I've been to the desert.  It was, truly, a whole other sort of luxury to be there.

Ah, the quiet. It didn't feel like I was out at all.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Dance is Brain Food

A 21-year long study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that dancing increases cognitive acuity. Significantly more than crossword puzzles. The article is nicely summarized here, on the Stanford social dance site.

Not just any kind of dancing, either. It has to be the kind that requires improvisational work, the styles that require you to make lots of decisions on a split-second basis.

And mostly women benefit.  Why? You probably know that most partner dancing is pretty sexist. Men are expected to "lead" and women are expect to "follow".  I put those words in quotes because there are no really good words describing what those two roles are doing.

The lead -- usually the man -- does what? Directs? Orients? Maybe invites. Offers an idea about how to understand the music with this particular partner.

The follow -- usually the woman -- does what?  Not just does what she's told, that's for sure. Responds? Interprets. The follow interprets the dance based on the music and the guy in front of her.

Now because, as the article says, follows typically make "hundreds of split-second decisions as to what to do next", they gain the most cognitive exercise from dance.  The leads don't have to respond or interpret nearly as often, so they gain less.

In dances like Argentine Tango and Blues and Fusion, where each led movement can have dozens of subtle implications requiring immediate and complicated follow decisions, the cognitive workout is significant.

The article suggests ways leads can improve their cognitive workout. They suggest the lead really notice the subtleties of their partner's actions and respond in real-time, rather than following a pattern.

That is, pay attention. That is, watch and listen.

Hey leads, are you listening now?  Maybe it's a good time to start. Do it for your brain.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Me, mine. Us, them.

I'm at Gasworks, standing atop The Mound (I'm sure it has a real name and that's not it). My companion says, "See that building there, the Columbia Tower? It's the tallest building on the West Coast."

"Huh," I say.

"Yeah, he says. "Taller than anything in SF, San Diego, or even LA."

"Huh," I say. And then an unexpected thing happens: I feel a flash of pride. As if this fact in some way reflects upon me personally, as a denizen of Seattle. As if I had anything to do with it.  Which I didn't.

And yet, there it is, the strange little beast, pinging up inside me, poking a little thumb toward its puffed up little chest, wiggling its hips and squeaking: "Yeah, uh huh, we did that! Us! Not them! Fist-bump!"

This, I gather pensively, staring at the tall building, must be what sports fans feel when their teams win: a sort of senseless, tribal delight that has absolutely no connection to anything they have personally accomplished.

We. Us.

Can't argue with how it feels: powerful, compelling, insidious, pervasive -- tribalism. Wikipedia says: "People have postulated that the human brain is hard-wired towards tribalism due to its evolutionary advantages".

Evolutionary advantages. We win.


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Could have been so much worse

Heavy traffic, light turns green, starts moving forward, and a guy in a covered pickup changes lanes left, directly into me on my motorbike.

Signal?  Don't be silly.

When this happens there's not much time. You get one reaction, so choose wisely: a defensive move to get your delicate little self out of the way, or using the beep-beep. (It's only a horn if you have an aftermarket add-on. I don't.)

So I swerve left into the shared turn-lane which is, fortunately, unoccupied. Inside my helmet, I yell and swear loudly.

The Oblivious Moron drives forward. Since I'm going that way anyway, I follow, doing what people who've just had a narrow miss with oncoming traffic and the pavement do: I honk and gesture with my best what-the-hell gesture.  Not, I hasted to add, the F-you gesture, which doesn't make anyone sorry. Do you really want to pick a fight with someone in a truck when you're on a motorbike in the middle of traffic? No, you do not.

From his side mirror I can tell that Mr. Moron sees me gesturing, but he doesn't look very sorry. So I follow with what I have come to view as the universal reprimand, the gesture that us riders resort to.

The slow, disgusted headshake.

Unmistakable in meaning but not so challenging as the F-you gesture, it is often the only thing that tells people what you really think of their sloppy, life-risking driving.

I wear highly reflective yellow and white protective gear. I stand out, day or night. But when I've just survived some OM's inability to see me, I find myself thinking that the head shake is a pretty weak tool for social change.

Then I remember. Years ago I was a passenger in a sportscar being driven by someone who, usually pretty alert, inadvertently moved into a lane already occupied by a motorcycle, who -- like me -- was forced to move left to avoid us.  A minute later the motorcycle pulled up even with us, looked in through the passenger window, and slowly shook his dark, helmeted head.

I still feel bad and I wasn't even driving.

So maybe it works. Or maybe it just works on me.

The bottom line is this: I'm mighty glad that I was in good enough shape after that encounter to be able to shake my head at all. It could have been so much worse.

Monday, July 2, 2012

God knows the New Yorker doesn't need my help getting publicity. But as a (reluctant) fan of the "The Girl with/who..." Stieg Larsson books, this humor piece on the umlaut made me laugh. Yes, out loud. If you're also a (reluctant) fan, take a moment to be amused. Yes, it's short.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Fine Bar of Chocolate

I've been studying chocolate this last year. That's not (merely) a euphemism for gobbling it down, I assure you; I've also been studying the history, process, economics, and sustainability. I've been doing a lot of critical tasting and last year I even judged the dessert contest at the NW Chocolate Festival (see my review here and other reviews here).

Lately I've been consulting to an exciting soon-to-launch business that will offer locally some of the best artisan chocolate in the country. (I can't tell you more than that yet, but stay tuned and I assure you I'll spill the beans the moment I can.) That'll be a blast when it hits the ground but in the meantime good or even great chocolate is only a click away. if you can get something in Seattle, you can get it in New York or LA or Union City.

People have started to ask me, as though I'm an expert or something,  "what's the best chocolate?" In some ways my answer hasn't changed over the last year, and it's "it depends".

It depends on what I'm in the mood for. Do I want subtle? A chocolate that challenges me? Something uncomplicated and sustaining?  High cocoa content? Milk chocolate?  (And yes, a "serious" milk chocolate is worth it.)

And how much do I want to spend? Fact is, top-notch chocolate costs more, but something costing more doesn't make it top-notch.

Where do I get it? How patient am I feeling? Am i willing to wait to have it shipped or take a trip to a specialty shop, or do I want it quick from my local market?

So it all depends.  I have my special chocolates and I have my "day" chocolate.  I consume a range of chocolates that includes bars you can find at the market and bars you can't find at all.

In the last year I've learned to say things about fine (and not so fine) chocolate, such as "creamy mouth-feel" or "complex taste" or "nice finish." Last week a chocolate bar hit my tongue that rode right over all my other considerations and all I could manage was "oh, wow."

This particular chocolate maker currently stocks only four bars, one of which is a limited edition and one of which isn't even in stock. They're all good, but I have two favorites of the four and I'm going to tell you what they are and how to get them.

As with all chocolate, your mileage may vary. Taste is individual and depends on all kinds of things, including your mood and what else you've been eating. Add in that the chocolate itself changes as beans and manufacturing practices change. It's a snapshot, and a very personal one at that.

But caveats aside, this chocolate is complicated but intriguing, deep and smooth. The texture and mouth-feel are lovely. It's taste does not compromise a whit when it goes adventuring across my tongue. It challenges me but it's the sort of challenge that makes me want more.

And so I recommend to you my current favorite bars, from Rogue Chocolates: the Hispaniola and Rio Caribe at 70%. Check your local chocolate specialty shop, too, in case they have some.  And if you get some, be sure to let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What is "axis" in dance?

dancer with axis?
Check out my axis
When I teach dance, my goals range from being as specific as possible for that particular person to being as general as possible, that is, what would apply to everyone equally?

Is tricky.

This one day I'm working with a woman on tango moves and I encourage her to do thus-and-such to have a better axis. She has a ballet background and she's pretty sophisticated for a beginner so when she asks me, "what exactly do you mean by 'axis'?" I realize that in all my years of struggling to gain better axis myself I have yet to define it to my own satisfaction.

Dancers describe axis in any number of ways. They say it's about balance, good posture, stance and motion, smooth and controlled movements, core strength, spiral paths, head position, and on. And on. But for every one of those descriptions, there's a movement that defies it and works nonetheless.

I want to give this woman an explanation that will apply not only to her, but to everyone, no matter what their body type, skill level, or dance experience. I want a definition that allows all the secondary attributes to be derivable by the person who actually needs them, when they need them.

Do I set myself hard challenges? Very well then! I set myself hard challenges!

I'm deep in thought for long enough that she starts to do the "no, no, it's okay" thing and I hold up a hand to buy myself another moment. Because I'm thinking hard and I think I'm coming up with an answer.

"Axis", I say, "is what you have when you recruit all your physical  abilities so that you can, at that moment, move in any direction you choose, easily and efficiently."

She has the "aha!" face so I think maybe I've nailed it. But I decide to check with a few dancers I respect. They each mull it over for a moment and agree that it's a good and, yes, useful definition.

If you're slumped or in a physically awkward position, you can't easily move in any direction you want. To take it to an extreme, if you are about to fall over, you can certainly and easily move in one direction, but that's about it.

In general, being able to move easily and efficiently in any direction at any moment produces grace. As I see it, the "organic" movements dancers work for are all about physical efficiency. A professional ballet dancer of my acquaintance says that once you get the movements right, they feel good too. He adds it may take a lot of years and work to get to the point where these motions feel natural, but that's the end goal: to make the movement feel right, which is the body's way of saying, yes, this is efficient, this works. So feeling good and looking good are, ultimately, one and the same.

Axis is what you get when you can, physically -- and I would also add internally and emotionally -- move in any direction you want with similar ease. That definition draws along with it all the other attributes usually associated with axis, but it lets people derive them directly for themselves.

So, dancers: what do you think?

Friday, May 18, 2012

The SMS-Driving Test

"When you forbid things, people (especially young people) want to do them even more."

Smart words from Axel Druart, the European Project Director for Responsible Young Drivers. So he arranged a driving class for some young adults in which they were told they had to drive and text simultaneously, to get their licenses.

Here's the video. It's two minutes and fifteen seconds well worth watching. Heck, it's even funny.

"People will die" says one dismayed student.


Pass it on.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Eeek! Where's my phone?

I'm at a dance.  A good friend asks if he can borrow my cell phone.  Usually I hesitate on lending such personal things, because, well, you know -- they're personal. But this is someone I know and trust, so sure, I say, here.

I go back to dancing. Forty minutes later it occurs to me that I haven't seen him in a while.  I look around. No him.

Apparently he's left. With my phone.

With my phone.

I am suddenly struck by how weird it feels to suddenly have my phone, my link with all that I know and depend upon. All my security, my contacts, my information, ripped away from me like an underwater breathing tube.  With me underwater.

I take a few deep breaths, remind myself that it is not, in fact, a panic-worthy situation -- no breathing tube required. I remind myself that I was born into a time when cell phones were still the stuff of science fiction (though we knew they were coming), and tell myself it'll be all right.

And it is all right. I have my darling little device back in my hands in short order.

But I had no idea I was so, well, attached.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Win a free copy of my story

As previously reported on this media channel, Uncle John's Bathroom Reader is publishing my flash fiction story "Biggest Fan! Ever!" in their "Flush Fiction" anthology.  Just released.

In order to promote their anthology, Uncle John (and his pals) are providing one free copy to a fan of my choice.

Power. I'm telling you, it's the ultimate aphrodisiac.

So while I'm inhaling deeply and smiling slightly, you may want to toss your name in the hat.  How?  Simply comment on this post, or any post on this blog ('cause, you know, I can sort on date) by the Ides of April, the 15th -- oh, let's play by tax rules: April 16th.  I will select one fan (and/or commenter -- no need to adopt any label whatsoever) in a vaguely random and slightly unbiased fashion (amuse me, flatter me, make me want chocolate -- oh, wait, that last part's easy). I'll contact you if you're the winner.

I won't blog about you without your permission, this is not a fair contest, prohibited where illegal, no salesman will call, boxtops not needed, and your mileage will vary.

And don't be all whiny if you don't win.  Come on, guys. I have a lot of fans. Three, at least, not counting the cat.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Girl on Girl Action


What Girls Really Talk About

Until recently I'd never heard of the Bechdel Test, which, simply put, asks two things of a movie: 1) do two or more women 2) talk to each other 3) about something besides a guy?

Seems like sort of a low bar, doesn't it?  I talk to gal-pals all the time about things that don't involve guys. The nature of truth, the beauty of music, the best chocolate, and the damned rain. Cats, dogs, adventure, gardening, life, death -- topics besides boys seem plentiful to me.

And in a movie where you get to write the script yourself, this seems even easier. Think I'll try my hand at it.

Woman one: "Hey, girl!  How's it going?"

Woman two: "Not too bad. Just upgraded to Oneiric Ocelot and my desktop is screwed up, but I'm getting it to behave."

Okay, maybe not so typical But then, I'm a geek. How about this, then:

Woman one: "Hey, girl!  How's it going?"

Woman two: "I think I finally figured out how the multi-verse is elastic across variant deviations. All that meditation is finally paying off!"

Perhaps a touch off the beaten path as well. Try this:

Woman one: "Hey, girl!  How's it going?"

Woman two: "I just scored some Chipotle Taza and it rocks! This is  kick-ass chocolate, gal-pal.  Want some?"

"I'll be right over!"

Two women, no guys. Bechdel pass!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Communication, Well Said

It took me a few minutes to get this, and for a moment it seemed like too much work -- just tell me! -- but no: I was wrong, the artist was right: xkcd on communication

Friday, March 9, 2012

It Takes all Kinds

" make a world.'

But that's patently absurd. It doesn't take all kinds to make a world; it takes exactly the kinds we have, because -- take a look around -- we have a world.

What this is really trying to say is something more like: "I wish to believe that the world requires for its very existence all the weirdnesses that people manifest so that my own hidden (or obvious) weirdnesses might be not only acceptable but necessary for our mutual continued existence."

In other words, I'm necessary. My aberrations are of value to the world. My dark corners are positively meaningful.

Wishing doesn't make it so. But here's what I think is true: it takes all kinds to cover the permutation space and to explore the infinite variety of the many ways there are to be human.

Well, okay. Maybe that works. Now that I've rephrased it.

Guess I'm one of those kinds.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Words to a Grieving Widow

There are no good words. None at all. So we hugged.

"I'm sorry," I whispered in her ear. "So sorry."

"I know," she replied softly, not letting me go.

"I know you know," I said back quietly. "But I have to say something."

"I know," she said, still hugging me.

It was a bit funny and a lot heartrending. Nearly twenty years we'd been friends,  she and her recently departed -- lost? died? exited stage left? -- husband.

Who was irreverent and affectionate. He used to call me "darlin'". He was a damned good writer and one of the few I've known who I wanted to write with.

In fact, mere months ago we started riffing on a story we wanted to write together, about a PI who was following this guy who kept flubbing ornate assassinations. The story was about how, after a while, the PI became fascinated by and sympathetic to the guy he was following, and as he started to understand his motivations, began to even help him -- help him fail, that is. It was a good premise, funny, and just the sort of thing that Mark could make come alive.

It was a good time. A good memory.

So what do you say to a grieving widow? What words can do any good in the face of a pain so great it is neither bearable nor escapable? There aren't any. Not a one.

But you have to say them anyway.

I'm sorry.

So sorry.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

My brain. I think I'll keep it.

Sometimes I'm really impressed with my brain. Counter to expectation as the years go by my noggin seems to be performing better and better. All sorts of improvements, like remembering names and doing calculations more effectively. Nothing huge, mind you, but noticeable performance upgrades upstairs.

The other day I'm motorbiking around town and I'm caught in a sudden drenching downpour with ambulances screaming around me. I finally reach my destination, go inside, strip off my dripping protective gear, and sit to make a call. I'm chatting away on my cell to a business acquaintance and as we're talking I'm looking through my bag to make sure I have all my things with me because frankly it's been a little hectic today and a lot wet and I realize with a shock that I don't see my phone anywhere.

So I dig through my bag again, but, no, it's not there.

I'm holding back panic. Where could I have left it? On the phone my acquaintance is still talking but I know she's got to leave so I don't feel bad saying, "listen, I've got to go. I can't find my phone."

"Oh, okay," she says, but she wants to finish up a few things, so she's still talking.

I've reached full panic mode now and so I desperately search my bag one more time.

And then, of course, it hits me.

"Oh," I say. "Phone. In my hand." My brain, I realize, needs a break. "Okay, now I really have to go."

I hang up. The other fellow in the office politely refrains from comment but I see him smile. I'm less than perfectly impressed with my brain at this moment, though it's not like I can just threaten it with replacement if it doesn't shape up. I laugh and take a long, grateful look at my phone.

At least now I know where it is. The phone. My brain? Not so sure.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Babies and Kittens Venn Diagram

I was at brunch the other day with some friends and their cute little baby. We're all cat lovers so the subject of kittens naturally arose and a discussion of similarities and differences. There's a lot to say about this--some of it unpleasant and sticky-- but here's the gist of the conversation.

Babies and Kittens: Differences and Commonalities

Babies & Kittens Venn Diagram


Friday, January 20, 2012

A Fine Time

Where have I been?  What have I been doing?  Yes, it has to do with chocolate. You guessed correctly.

I went to SF for the Fine Chocolate Industry Association's semi-annual meeting. I'm going to say more about the content of the event, especially what really got my attention, in the near future, for some magazines and newsletters that have asked me to report. (Notice how important I make myself sound there?  It's a knack.) In the meantime, a few impressions about going to an industry-oriented rather than consumer-oriented chocolate show.

I'm learning terms-of-art fast. "Fine chocolate" is not when you say "oh, wow -- this chocolate is fine, man!" Not quite. The FCIA defines fine chocolate as having certain elements including origin, production practices, ingredient quality, and final presentation. In some ways, the only way to be sure what fine chocolate is is to taste it and decide for yourself.

Oh, drat.

You can tell you're on the road to nerd-dom on a subject when you not only realize that there are people who know far more than you do but you can name them. Want to dive into a passionate and convention-challenging view of chocolate? Visit and take a look around. I learned a lot there.

FCIA was held in a downtown San Francisco hotel with big blue windows and no free wifi. (I notice these things). There were at least a dozen tables of chocolate-related displays including equipment, molds and of course chocolate, made by both big suppliers and artisans. I did my best not to get sick from too much of a fine thing, mostly succeeding, but in large part by squirreling samples away for later, which turned out to be a really good idea.

If I've had 10 samples, I'm unlikely to be able to distinguish the same details with the 11th. But if I taste it later, after I've had a chance to recover, I might well detect nuances that I missed before. Takeaway? If you do chocolate tasting, do it again and again (oh, drat) to see if you have the same impressions of those bars later.

I was surprised that only water was offered to cleanse palates between tastings. Chocolate melts at body temperature due to the wonderful properties of cocoa butter, chocolate's fat content.  When I'm tasting at home I drink weak green tea because warmth helps clear things up and the tea flavor doesn't seem to me to interfere. Cold water doesn't work for me. Maybe I just need more sophistication.

Speaking of which, I felt very sophisticated when I sampled nibs and the chocolate made from them to see how the tastes connected. I wasn't sure, so I had some more -- a habit I am trying hard to break.  Taste, not gobble. Because you can have too much fine chocolate. Yes, you can. Chocolate contains theobromine, phenylethylamine, seritonin and lots of other compounds that interact with the body in ways we don't quite understand. I like my theobromine high as much as the next chocolate-gal but but too much gives me a buzzing feeling that is not exactly pleasant.  It's not caffeine, but it's a stimulant, and too much is -- too much.

But I found it delightful to be surrounded by people who know too much about chocolate. I got to ask all the questions I've wanted to ask about genetics and processing and the industry, all while tasting some of the best chocolate around.

It was a fine time.

Friday, January 6, 2012

An Adult Adventure

Don't look up.
This week I did an unusual thing: I went to a shopping mall.

I had decided that now that I was (okay, arguably) an adult, there were certain garments that I needed to have to seem more like one. The specifics aren't necessary, and you won't be getting them; you just need to know that I don't like shopping and I don't like malls. I had to talk myself into this trip.

Actually, I had to bribe myself. "Come on," I said. "It won't be so bad. Look, get the stuff and I'll buy you a coffee."

Ooooo, coffee. Well, okay.

When dealing with Self, I've discovered, It's important to know what bribes to use.

A cacophony of color hit me. A veritable riot of sounds. Exciting words jiggled everywhere. "Sale!" "Sale!" "Sale!" I found myself pulled to things I didn't realize I needed, fingering items I didn't want, nodding at how good the deals were.

As if I had a clue. It's easy to cut something by 50% if it's already twice what it should be, right? Are these prices good? How much does this cost to make? What's the store's overhead?

Do I even need it?

All these sensible questions fled my mind as the mall's indigenous spell infused my brain. I flitted from storefront to storefront. Look at this! What a deal! I could take these home! We'd be so happy together, my things and me!

Oh. My. God.

I shook my head like a large, wet dog and almost bumped into someone.  Navigating in a mall is, I realized, not like walking a sidewalk. You're not going somewhere, you're -- browsing. Consuming. Like a goat. A bit of this, a bit of that. Dreams of satisfaction and delight sparkled everywhere, like neon flowers calling me to feast.

But now I'd seen the game for what it was. The spell was -- mostly -- broken. I kept my gaze resolutely on my destination. Or on the floor, when things got bad.

Ooh, pretty!

Focus! Ignore those things! Deny them!

When I was done at last, I dashed out the nearest mall door and was free! Lost, but free.

Then I went to find (very good) coffee to pay off my bribe. We had a lovely cup of dark brew, myself and me, to celebrate our daring escape. So brave, so free. So adult.