Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Chocolate Summary

2010 is coming to a close tonight, officially marking the end of my first calendar year of chocolate connoisseurship. It is weird how my favoring these dark little confections has blossomed out into such a beloved hobby as this. When I first started eating dark chocolate I did it virtually only for medicinal reasons: I was having sugar cravings from my adjusting to the paleo diet, so I was utilizing dark chocolate as a healthy alternative. Green & Black's left quite a bitter taste in my mouth and I didn't like it, but I compelled myself to go on. In almost no time at all I developed a palate for it and continued buying and exploring the different chocolates regardless of the fact my sugar cravings had largely ceased. Somewhere in that period I started posting miniature summaries of the chocolates I was eating on my Facebook profile, and for whatever reason I continued doing it since I enjoyed it. Eventually I eloped here for the audience and lack of word limits, and I've gotten increasingly better at my tasting. Now my tasting has gotten to the point where I'm contemplating as to whether or not this may have an impact on my future career goals, as I have no plans to cease this hobby; only to get better.

While I may be only benefiting through the use of Amazon Associates and Google Ads, I feel somewhat like a businessman when I construct my reviews. The monetary rewards may be very small, but I worry all the time about my honesty and work to the best of my ability to make sure I'm making the best and most just estimates I can of what I'm eating. I not only don't want you to waste your money, but I also don't want chocolate companies to be cheated of business they deserve. After all, by inadequately or unjustly stating my estimate of a chocolate I may not only deprive you of a value, but also deal an undeserved punishment upon the companies I'm reviewing and possibly contribute to the destruction of the varieties I enjoy. In considering my honesty I try to stake my reputation on every word: I take things very seriously.

However much you have enjoyed my past reviews, I have yet to live up to my own expectations. There's still so much I can improve on, in my tasting, contemplation, note-taking, article writing, and more. Usually I am against New Year's resolutions since I think it's foolish to hold off one's self-improvement until then, but I see now that this time of year can be good for putting things into perspective. While it's best to allow for self-improvement at any time in the year, I will take it upon myself to take advantage of this seasonal perspective by setting some medium-term goals, which I'll elaborate on a little later down. Self-improvement may be a tired phrase on this blog, but I like to view myself as a being with limitless potential, thereby negating any possible limit on self-improvement.

While I don't know how long I'll be blogging at this particular location -- certainly a long time at least -- I do know that I intend to make this kind of post a regular tradition each year on the last day. The purpose of this type of article is to sum up my thoughts on all the published chocolate tasting I did for the year, to bring back to mind old posts, gather old material into one place, and so on. Most importantly, I would like to take the opportunity to make clear if I changed my mind on something or have found a better way to express my thoughts, thereby improving my chances at being just. However, I won't be listing all the chocolate tasting I did: absent from this collection will be the most boring chocolates which hardly elicited a response from me. Included in this entry will only be the best (the ones you must try), my personal favorites, all the lesser ones still worthy of enjoyment, and the worst ones you ought to avoid.

Let's get on with it then. Here's the summary of my chocolate connoisseurship for 2010:

* * * * *

1.) Best Stand-Alones: For a long time now I've been calling chocolate that doesn't include any flavor integrations as "plain" chocolate, but isn't that inherently insulting? Unadorned chocolate can certainly have depth and complexity on its own without any help whatsoever, so from now on I'll call pure chocolate products as "stand-alone" chocolate. Here's what I think were the best for this year:

* Green & Black's 85% cocoa: This may in fact be the very first dark chocolate I've ever eaten. It was pretty bitter then, but now that my palate has adjusted I'm surprised at how luscious this thing is. Great aroma of drinking cocoa, a warm glow in its body, and a almost liquid mouthfeel.

* Godiva's 85% cacao Santo Domingo Single-origin: Due to expense this was the first and only single-origin chocolate I've tried and reviewed, but what a first impression! The fruit notes are super strong. Unfortunately, it seems to still be out of production, so you'll have to keep your eye out for leftover stock in stores. Build a stash!

* Lindt's 90% cocoa: Not as great as G & B's 85%, but much more affordable and still plenty good. The mouthfeel is smooth and the flavor players get along like the best of friends.

2.) Best Integrations: Chocolate does not always need to play by itself. Combining it with other players can serve well to add dimension. Balance the qualities and depth just right and an amazingly complex chocolate results, one that demands the full use of your intellect to enjoy. Here are my picks for this year:

* Dagoba's 74% cacao Xocolatl: This chocolate is simply beautiful in every way. A masculine aroma, a pleasant fluctuation between fruity sugariness and woodsy savoriness, and a heat that sticks. Deep, complex, beautiful -- just a great chocolate to concentrate all your attention on.

* Endangered Species' 72% cocoa with mint: Mint is my favorite herb right now, so I list this with some prejudice. I just love how refreshing it is. The cocoa and mint notes practically equal each other in intensity, so the experience is quite impressionable.

3.) Personal Favorites: I may judge one chocolate as objectively superior to another, but it can still be the case that I value other varieties more. My taste buds are wired one way, yours another. Here are my absolute favorites for the year:

* Endangered Species' 72% cocoa with mint: I love it most when mint makes me feel as if a cold air were circulating in the vessels of my brain. How much more deeply refreshing can you get? This bar is hands-down very nearly at the top of my hierarchy. 

* Green & Black's 85% cocoa: The flavor profile is virtually identical to Lindt's 90%, but the stupendous mouthfeel puts it over the top. I especially love how the vanilla is a very strong player here in contrast to the hidden stagehand I've found it to be in other varieties.

* Godiva's 85% cacao Santo Domingo Single-origin: This is only my first exposure to single-origin chocolate, but I know now that I must take to finding other brands of this special type of cacao. The flavors all blend together in such a unique way that might be unobtainable to simply blending the elements in different forms, like dried fruit.

* Dagoba 74% cacao Superfruit: The tone fluctuation is weird, but the crumbly-sticky texture is a nice twist on the mouthfeel. Additionally, I favor this bar for just how well it puts acai berries on display, a berry that is far too neglected in chocolate.

* Theo's 70% cacao orange: The balance is what makes it for me in this bar. The orange is plenty assertive enough, but it plays backup to the dominant chocolate, which I view to be a good thing. This bar may be horribly ugly, but its mouthfeel and flavor more than make up for it.

4.) Worthy: I actually have a list that tracks which chocolates I value, so that I may keep track of them, and I segregate them largely into two groups: those I like and those I love. Those I love are the ones I want to consume regularly and have on hand as much as possible, even go so far as to buy in bulk; those I like are the ones I would consistently enjoy eating, but not enough to do so often. Here are my picks for the year that I think are well worthy of your pleasure, but maybe not to the point of stacking them high in the pantry:

* Endangered Specie's 72% cocoa with raspberries: This is my first review. I have to admit I'm slightly embarrassed, as I can see how amateur I was before I had begun developing my tasting skills. Nonetheless I still stick by what I say: The tartness may be more mild then I'd like it to be, but it's still there to pleasure. Also, the spotty pinkness of the fruit flesh reminds me fondly of beautiful women.

* Endangered Species' 72% cocoa with cacao nibs: The first time I ever had cacao nibs. Somewhat of a weak exposure, but I enjoyed the crispy texture and hazelnut aftertaste.

* Lindt's 85% cocoa: Yes, it has but 5% less cocoa than Lindt's 90%, but it makes a difference. Its mouthfeel offers a slower melt and the vanilla note doesn't seem to be totally fused with the cocoa. Regardless, it's still good; just not as good. The comparison is only in degrees here.

* Ghirardelli's 100% cacao baking bar: The first baking chocolate I've ever eaten. Delightfully bitter, and positively my favorite delivery device for nut butter. This bar's great virtue is its ease of handling: It's easy to break off from the bar or to bite directly from it.

* Hershey's 100% cacao baking bar: Hershey's is actually composed  of both cacao and cocoa, the latter of which is chocolate that has undergone certain processing. I theorize that this is why this bar is less bitter than Ghirardelli. It might be enjoyable to those who don't totally enjoy the bitterness of cacao, and it's a little cheaper too.

* Baker's 100% cacao baking squares: This is just as bitter as Ghirardelli's, only it's much cheaper and harder to handle. For those with considerable budget concerns this may be the best option, but keep in mind it is much denser and harder to eat. I enjoy it, but it throws the chocolate:nut butter ratio off when I use it for dipping.

* Dagoba's 74% cacao Beaucoup Berries: Nice and fruity, not to mention crumbly, but the vanilla is too weak to be worthy of advertisement.

5.) Worst of 2010: Very luckily, I have rarely come across a chocolate that I would classify as bad. Even if my experience was unpleasant I still got the enjoyment of the tasting and review, thus making it worth my money anyhow. The most common occurrence is that I'll come across something that's simply boring and easily forgettable: No worse, no better. However, there have been a handful that I've considered terrible flops, ones I would encourage you not even to indulge a curiosity and try. Unless they change the recipe and warrant a new review from me, here's what I consider the must-avoids of 2010:   

* Endangered Species' 70% cocoa with goji berry, pecans, and maca: I feel guilty for how I wrote this review, as I tried too much to ignore my own perspective in order to make this seem like it would be valuable to someone else, which I see now was dishonest. Simply put: this was awful. The flavors fuse together monstrously, losing their individuality and making for a sickeningly sweet intensity. It was either this one or the one below (or maybe both), but I remember eating only half of the bar and procrastinating for several days on finishing it. I think I eventually just threw the rest away since I couldn't bare to taste it again.

* Endangered Species' 70% cocoa with cacao nibs, yacon, and acai: Virtually the same as above: Sickeningly sweet and no detectable individuality amongst the players. I've learned from this and the above review that I must be totally honest in my evaluation and not pussy-foot on my estimate in hopes that I might make it somehow sound palatable to someone. I have only my own tastebuds, so that is the only perspective I should give you; it was foolish of me to think I could guess other people's. This chocolate is just plain terrible.

* Theo's 70% cacao mint: I love mint -- which is why this such a huge disappointment. The mint intensity is okay, but the chocolate is weak and there's a note of rye! Sure, not bad enough to invoke disgust, but this variety is still an outright absurdity. Not one to provide herbal refreshment.

* Valor's 70% cocoa banana: I haven't reviewed this bar -- and I refuse to. I ate it before my connoisseurship really blossomed into a hobby, and to date this remains the biggest disappointment I have ever suffered in chocolate eating. Bananas and chocolate seem like such a perfect combination, one I would desperately like chocolate companies to make work, but this was chalky and tasted of stale bananas soaked in beer. I distinctly remember my throat being sore and stomach being irritated afterwards as well, which I attribute to the added fructose. This bar is absolutely the biggest let-down of the year, and almost makes me leery of trying any more of Valor's line.

* * * * *

I'm proud of the effort I've put forth this year, but I am far from content. This may be only a hobby as of right now, but I do take it seriously and intend to continue improving myself in this field. No, it's not for the prospect of earning more via Amazon Associates or having people increasingly visit my site, but rather to continue advancing me forward in my chosen central purpose in life to become a culinary entrepreneur. My connoisseurship is a facet of my aims, not some side-pursuit serving to give me a break from it. I'd like to achieve professional competence in this field, and become the greatest I can with my own faculties. Whether or not this all has any professional significance in my life in the long-run is virtually irrelevant; it's about striving to be the best I can in what I love.

My yearly goals will not be something I'll carelessly state and promptly forget. The cultivation of my abilities is not a light matter, so I'll be taking care to have a document of all my goals for the year and will constantly reference it for daily guidance, as well as establish some markers which will indicate my progress on each goal. Now, what will I aim to do this year?

1.) Establish an original layout for this blog: I've long been unsatisfied with what pre-made templates are available to pick and choose from, which I believe contributes negatively to how my content is viewed. Additionally, I have no skills in constructing internet aesthetics, so I can't take it upon myself to break out an editor and change the layout with any expertise. Given the pursuits in my life I have no real interest in gathering such skills in the future (though may change my mind), so most likely I'll commission someone to do it for me. I'd like to do this in order to give my writing a more professional appearance.

2.) Improve my writing skills: I may not desire to be a professional writer any more, but writing will always play a significant role in my life. Every single one of my chocolate reviews strikes me as awkward in some way, especially the start of the piece and the transition between attribute considerations. I may relay the facts of my interpretation well, but in such bad style! I may choose to do more than this in the future, but for right now I think the purchase and use of a computer printer would works wonders. Editing on my computer just isn't all that effective: I do my best when I'm dealing with a physical copy. Up until now I've needed no such thing as a printer and the library is a burden to constantly drive to, so it's long overdue I get one for my own use.

3.) Buy a camera and begin practicing food photography: This is the most drastic change I wish to make. Whether I'm writing a chocolate review or about a new recipe I tried, it would contribute a lot to the experience if I could take photographs of what it is I'm eating, and I mean good ones. I don't intend on just taking johnny-on-the-spot photos of my practice with a camera phone, but rather actually working to develop food photography skills with quality equipment. If I ate a good chocolate or made a good soup, wouldn't it be great to be able to advertise that to you? It would be relevant not only for my blog, but for my future goals as well. Take, for instance, practicing taking photos in order to construct my own restaurant menu images.

To put things in a rough hierarchy, I'd like to work on my writing skills and buy that printer first, buy the camera and begin photography practice second, and squeeze in the blog template reconstruction whenever. Tracking these goals will be easy, since it'll mainly involve saving up my finances until I can afford what I want. As for what goals I'll set for photography practice, I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

I won't always be talking about these goals, but you can be sure I'm keeping track of them and working on them consistently. My sole aim in life is to become as great as I can be.

Chocolate Review: Endangered Species' 72% with Blueberries

I love berries. I have a particular fondness for the tart zip they can provide through their acidity. Removing the acid, of course, removes much of that pleasant tanginess (such as by dehydrating), but there are still virtues to be enjoyed in the leftover mellowness. I had high expectations, then, for Endangered Species' 72% dark chocolate with blueberries.That company is, after all, the one I've come to expect the most from given their consistent quality. By their own virtue they've come to be the brand I've reviewed most on this site.

The first things to spike my interest were the absolutely fitting and beautiful aesthetics of both the packaging and bar. Turtles and seawater have nothing to do with blueberries of course, but the photography highlights the blue so intensely that one cannot help but expect nothing else but a blueberry sensation. And as always, there's interesting information to read inside about the current state of an endangered specie. An educational experience while you eat, though I'd suggest keeping your mind on the chocolate.

ES is extremely consistent in the quality of the aesthetics of their bars, so I must have not been paying thorough attention in the past because this bar surprised me with its attractiveness. Apart from ES' representative tree symbol on each dome, this bar possesses the best shine I have ever seen in a chocolate. It's so smooth that it might be on the verge of becoming a reflective mirror! There are no cracks, fissures, dust, or any kind of beauty defects. It's just simply a great looking bar that I couldn't help but keep staring at before I broke it up.

I feel disappointed by the lack of depth in the berry note of the flavor, however. Biting down I could detect a strong note of sugary milk with a subtle hint of smoke along with fruity cocoa. The fruity attribute could be credited to the blueberries infused, but unfortunately it's hard to detect that it is blueberries making the contribution. As mentioned above, absent their acidity and berries lose most of their tart power, so in the drying process it seems that these blueberries lost their individuality to the chocolate.

The transition of the experience is intriguing. It turns out pleasurably mild, but the cocoa notes start climbing in intensity as soon as it sits on your tongue, and at the finish it's nearly overwhelming. What strength! I don't think I've ever had chocolate that intensifies itself like this, almost as if I were growing more and more sensitive to it. Don't swallow too soon or you'll miss out on the peak.

Mouthfeel-wise it starts out very firm at first break with the bar, but it rapidly dissolves into a pure liquid at the same pace it rushes to intensify its chocolate notes. Very, very good, but it's so rapid and thin that I almost wish it'd slow down slightly. My favorite part of a smooth chocolate is the viscosity of the paste, but it dashes past that stage so quickly that it's hard to notice any transitional period. It's a fluid in practically a blink of an eye.

Fruity chocolate dominates the aroma, almost in a way that you can detect it's dried fruit, but still nothing uniquely blueberry. It's utterly simple and makes one expect a sort of mellow tangy experience, something it doesn't deliver on.

Overall, this is a very tasty chocolate that commits the terrible error of breaking its promise. The blueberries are clearly there and are contributing to the slight fruitiness, but their individuality is muted otherwise with the loss of their acids and essential oils. The experience is saved by the amazingly intense chocolate and liquidifying mouthfeel, but I enjoy a bar for keeping the promises it gives. I went in and only got the body, not the soul, of the berries. This chocolate is very good, but for the blueberries? No. I'd pass this up instead for ES' raspberry bar, which preserves a good degree of the acidic zip in the dehydration process (and is very femininely attractive with the bright pink spots).

This variety can still be saved, and I hope ES considers such an option. In order to heighten the blueberry note I would suggest perhaps adding a good extract. It would do well to also evenly distribute the flavor. Alternatively, they could abandon the dried-fruit option altogether and go for an essential oil, like they've done for their organic cherry, which is incredibly intense. Something to look forward to in the future, Endangered Species?

Weekly and Yearly Summary 12/24/10 - 12/30/10

The momentum continues to be sustained in my productive life, as I had another fantastic week. I did fail on some minor goals, but such a misfortune is overridden by just how exemplary I performed otherwise, all with the bare minimum of being bothered by the Circumstance. I added some goals mid-week, so don't be surprised if you don't remember me mentioning them: I utilized my free credits at and watched a television episode and a movie, I completed chapter 16 of Good Calories, Bad Calories (completing 12 conceptual exercises), I completed the 7th and final chapter of The Logical Leap (completing 10 conceptual exercises), I did my conceptual exercises with the use of the internet rather than the dictionary, I read three articles of and thereby finished my most recent copy of The Objective Standard, I constructed a summary for my chocolate connoisseurship this year, I got up as soon as I determined I was no longer able to sleep (instead of lazing in bed), and I successfully cultivated my concentration. Also, I unintentionally pick up the subconscious goal of trying to alter my posture for the better after being forwarded a lecture of Ester Gokhale. I feel like a stronger and more competent person after all of this. Getting Things Done is really a beautiful system for productivity, and has assisted me immensely. I just kept myself continuously working throughout all times of the day, even late at night just before bedtime. Most especially helpful was my ability to divorce my conception of time from any activity, which allowed me to resist feeling like I should be doing a particular something at any specific time, like recreating and lazing about after my work shift ends instead of getting back to my goal pursuits.

There are only two things that didn't get completed. I intended to write out a list of good things that have happened to me each and every day, but I skipped a few nights. For instance, one night Circumstance 2 frustrated me to the point that I could think of nothing better to do than vent myself with music, by which afterwards I was too tired and needed sleep. I do plan on keeping this habit as a regular routine; these are just a few missteps. Secondly, I totally forgot about my Project and didn't gather the information I needed. In a way this could be interpreted as good: My mind was so unhindered by the Circumstance that I didn't sense that there was any problem in need of solving. But this cannot continue, so next week my Project will definitely be emphasized.

Getting TLL done was a great thing, especially since I finished my reading early again just like last week, but I don't feel like I've gotten everything that this book has to offer. There were some great insights here and there, but I think a lot of it went over my head simply because there were so many scientific concepts I didn't understand. Obviously an education in basic science would do greatly for my comprehension of this book. Additionally, I still think there are some major problems with my note-taking and general study methods, so I should continue to take to working out those kinks. Unfortunately, given my limited understanding of TLL I don't think I can do well in giving it a just review, so I'll just say that I'm definitely going to reread it once I formulate better study methods and catch up on my scientific learning.

Now, it's the end of the year, isn't it? While I generally view New Year's resolutions as an irrational practice -- self-improvement should not be delayed until the end of the year -- I see now that this time of year does do well to put a perspective on things and remind one of the movement of time. I will continue to dedicate myself to making self-improvement goals at any and all times of the year, but I will also take advantage of this seasonal perspective and set up some medium-term goals to pursue in order to help me keep a perspective on the progress of my life. First, a glance at this year.

The best that could be said about this year is that I've done well to exert myself in self-improvement and my Project, but without the aid of a formal way to track my efforts everything is sort of a blur. I've dedicated so much time to my Project that it most dominantly sticks out in my mind. The first few months of 2010 were virtually wasted since I was still tortured by thoughts of the Circumstance. I didn't know then how to deal with it, so it was a loose end that filled up my subconscious and practically paralyzed me from concentrating on anything else. For hours I would pace around ignoring my open textbooks in order to engage in the futile effort of having the same thoughts over and over again about that petty little Circumstance. By February I started developing some vague picture of my Project and started working on the earliest steps, and by March it was almost fully conceptualized. Peace returned to my mind when I finally knew how to solve my problem and what to do next, but things came to a grinding halt when I got stopped by an independent variables, variables I could influence but not control. For several months afterwards all I was just waiting for the independent variables to fall in my favor while I worked on my studies and self-improvement in the meanwhile. Now it's taken me up to the end of this year to tire of waiting and contemplate an alternative means to solving this Project, one that would both increase its value and guarantee no independent interference. I'm not fully committed to it yet, but I think I will be since Circumstance 2 is now interfering with the independent variables and making matters worse.

As I'm developing into a better and more competent person I think I'll take advantage of my learning by taking the effort to formally document my achievements week-by-week and year-by-year. That way I'll have access to a larger perspective on the movement of my life and will be much more able to summarize my successes and continue planning for the future. This year was pretty good, but I don't want my accomplishments to be as hazy as they appear now.

My goals for this year may seem modest -- and I hope they are that I may stuff even more achievement in my pursuits -- but there's always the possibility of adding goals as I go. The goals that are specific to my chocolate connoisseurship will be listed in my yearly chocolate summary rather than here. For 2011, I want to aim for the following:

1.) Finish my Project: Natch. Natch natch natch. I've been working forever on this endeavor and it's WAY overdue that I get it finished. For all of those not in "the know," I bet you're dying to learn what it is, no? There's still no projected end date to this endeavor, but I am hopeful that it will be finished before it hits the one-year mark. There are some hopeful signs...

2.) Write letters to the editor regularly: I care a lot about which direction America goes in and yet I've done very little in terms of political activism since I've stopped blogging at Benpercent. If this culture goes to hell then I certainly deserve it. While I might not intend on making activism a strenuous dedication, I would like to make it a very regular habit if I can. A good goal, I would say, would be to strive to write one letter a week. I'd like to get my Project out of the way first since the Circumstance and Circumstance 2 are interfering with my endeavors in the greatest way.

3.) Read twenty books: My reading habits are far too modest. With my study subjects, didn't I pretty much spend the last several months working with only four or so books? I could do better than that: my brain needs much more sustenance. In truth I hope I can dramatically surpass this projection, but I'm settling for twenty at this point in order to set a minimal obligation. I love reading and yet don't indulge the value enough.

4.) Cook a pasture-raised steak at least once: My finances are tight, so seldom have I indulged in truly paleolithic meat. I've had free-range chicken and wild venison, but what I'd really like to try is a good old fatty steak. I might not be able to afford it regularly, maybe not even during this year, but I'd like to try it at least once.

5.) Try three different kinds of salt: It's easy to mix things up with spices and herbs, but different kinds of salt I'm really curious about. Diana Hsieh of Noodlefood is to blame for this, for she made quite a fuss over some truffle salt she bought. Trying different salts might actually be more friendly to my budget as well, as they should be incredibly more versatile. If all else fails: Just put it on eggs.

6.) Try sous vide cooking: Sous vide cooking is a slow cooking method where food is sealed in an airtight plastic bag and is cooked in a bath of precisely heated water. It leads to dramatically different results in the end products since they can only reach the temperature of the water, thereby making for a much more controllable experience. I'm aware that such a thing as the Sous Vide Supreme exists, but I still need to try the method yet before making such an investment. There are alternatives to be tried on the internet. If I do determine that I like it, then I'll probably start saving up for a professional grade immersion circulator since I intend on being a professional chef.  

It feels like I'm shooting quite low, but again there's always time to add more. You'll certainly hear me speak periodically of these goals: they are not carelessly stated and will not be neglected within two months. I can only maximize my abilities so much given my finite time, so all my time must be made to count.

Now then, onto to weekly goals, those which compose the individual steps to be taken. For this week I'll aim to complete chapter 17 of GCBC, read at least four scenes from Cyrano de Bergerac (the book I'll replace TLL with), develop a way to track my progress on my goals in a permanent form, conduct a certain business transaction (more next week), do some heavy research and thinking on my Project, and develop a template of information I need for the alternative means for my Project. In comparison to last week this may seem like too little, but remember that I'm emphasizing my Project this week, which means I largely cannot tell you of my goings-ons. Just for now. Be patient.

With the best of my benevolence I hope you're making the most of yourself as well.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Garbage Writing

One thing I seldom talk about around here is that at one point I actually wanted to become a writer. It is, in fact, the original reason why I started blogging. I wanted to utilize this medium in order to cultivate my writing skills, but shortly into my blogging venture I identified that my heart isn't into writing. I've since then decided to dedicate myself to the culinary field, so writing now serves the purpose of education: honing my skills for expression and introspection.

While writing may never again play a huge role in my plans as it did in the past, I still entertain ways in which I can improve myself. I can't just allow myself to publish any old thing; I always try to bring forth a finish product worthy of your finite time, and yet I feel inadequate always. However developed I may be, there is still an incredible amount of progress I could make, particularly in the realm of my thinking about writing.

How to go about thinking about a piece has been quite perplexing. If I'm aiming to write a substantial number of posts on a consistent basis then I can't allow myself to dwell on any one piece for too long, but then again I also can't just allow myself to jump into the construction of a post at any time. It's difficult to determine when I can start writing and when I should take to roughing an outline, but by encountering problems I do eventually come up with a solution. In the past I talked about a particular technique of writing outlines and then letting them sit for 24 hours or more to see if I can get a fresh perspective on my previous thinking, much like writing a rough draft and letting a day pass before the editing phase. I've recently come up with another technique: Writing articles I know I'm going to destroy.

On occasion I run into the unique problem where I cannot figure what to do in regards to a piece. Whatever efforts I might take in drawing up an outline fails me, and simply jumping into the writing leads to resistance as well. It's most prominent in my writing my chocolate reviews, where an outline is nearly useless since it contributes little to how I should describe something and jumping right in leaves me at a loss for descriptive words. The chocolate reviews are particularly unique is that I already know what I want to say, it's the issue of style that trips me. Sometimes I write whole reviews and other types of articles without ever intending to publish them, and I often never do. The odd thing is that I find that writing unpublishable articles tends to be the solution to my writer's block. Where outlining fails, it seems I can often solve my problems by just going ahead and writing the article to completion before I immediately rewrite the whole thing from scratch and destroy the previous copy.

This solution is a matter of figuring out how to do something right by identifying what's wrong, much like how you can fix a car by identifying what's broken. The reason why I have such a hard time coming up with an outline or a good first copy is not only because I don't have a good conception of what I want my piece to be like, but also because I have no conception of what a bad piece would look like. In my head, the problem is just a matter of not being as to write like I would want to, not that I think I would write something bad. In my brainstorming I don't actually consider my ideas bad, it's that I'm having a hard time coming up with ideas at all. When I force myself to write the piece regardless of my preparation I then understand exactly what is wrong with my writing, and by having a perspective on what's wrong I am much more able to determine what would actually constitute the right direction. In other words, I can't figure out which path is the right one to take until I know I've taken the wrong one. To have a conception that something is wrong or not good is to have an implicit conception that something else known would be good.

It might seem like a waste a time considering how long some writing pieces can be -- I once deleted an article I worked on over three hours straight just moments after finishing it -- but if you're really stopped in your thinking this could do well to force a current of thought. Inevitably it is a frustrating technique to employ since you know what you're writing is bad all while you're writing it and that you intend on destroying it shortly after completing it, maybe without even scrutinizing its errors first (I usually just delete the article without looking at it ever again). It would do well to keep in mind that the ultimate aim IS to eventually come out with a polished product: The garbage writing is but a step in the process. It will at first, of course, seem like an impediment to your efforts, as if you were somehow deliberately wasting time, but if you exert to actually include it into your efforts on a regular basis it could easily come to be viewed as something that contributes to your time rather than detracts from it.

Now that I think of it, maybe I ought to take more care to deliberately incorporate garbage writing into my practices. In the past I've been using this technique entirely by accident where I'll write a piece out of frustration in the belief that I must write something, even if I know in advance it's destined to be trashed. In many cases this technique has worked its magic outside of my awareness, where I'll write a bad article thinking I'm going to settle for its poor quality and publish it, but will quickly abandon it because I suddenly have ideas for a much better rewrite. More thinking needs to be done, but maybe from now on I'll incorporate garbage writing as a deliberate step in my writing process.

It may not be a technique guaranteed to work, but it does add to the reservoir of practices we can pick and choose from. One can never have too much variety in that area.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Divorcing Time from Work

Last week was quite a buzz of productivity for me, one in which I managed to keep myself consistently occupied throughout the entire day and much of the night. Partly due to my having fixed some problems with my computer to-do lists, I found myself consistently motivated to continue sustaining my momentum and let little disrupt me. It is this last point that is pivotal.

Most importantly, I learned that my productivity was greatly enhanced by my not being emotionally influenced by what time of day it was, similar to my claim in the past that I found it of benefit to lose perception of time while studying. Since all times of day felt the same to me emotionally, I felt little difference between eight AM and eight PM, so I was able to keep my mind entirely on my stream of activities. In other words, I was free to do whatever I chose at any time because I never felt like I should be doing something at a certain time.

It may sound odd, but given strong enough habits it can come to be the case that one will come to expect certain things at certain times and respond accordingly. Consistent mealtimes can lead to consistent hunger at those times. Watch a favorite television show at a certain time consistently then one might long for entertainment at that period regardless of whether or not the show is on. Kids distraught with their schooling may feel the pleasure of intellectual idleness come the end of the day. And so on. It something happens repeatedly and we respond repeatedly in the same way, then it's likely that we'll continue emotionally anticipating such responses in the future. This can place a barrier to one's productivity. If, for instance, you are habituated to engaging in a certain form of recreation at a certain time, then you might have a hard time keeping your mind on any alternative endeavor if you should choose to violate that routine and act otherwise. Being distracted, of course, will lead to you working slower and/or less effectively.

This was a considerable difficulty for me when I originally started my own private studies separate from my schooling. I had become incredibly used to ceasing work at a certain time frame and relaxing there forth, so when I noticed I had been studying into that time frame I would suddenly find it a little more difficult to exert myself since my body was anticipating relaxation. I had to push on to combat such feelings and did succeed, but that the feelings were there still made things considerably difficult. It has done wonders for my productivity, especially last week, to break those associations and view no activity, except for scheduled events, as time-sensitive; anything could be done at anytime.

Simply put, what I am talking about is how divorcing my conception of time from particular activities has helped me boost my productivity. By breaking such conceptions I can look at the clock, note what time it is, and not feel as if I should be altering my activities accordingly. All that matters is that I'm awake, I've got goals to pursue, and I ought to get things accomplished in order to achieve those goals. Breaking those prior conceptions has made it so I'm much more comfortable staying productive at all times of day, around the clock. It's especially useful for such a thing as burning the midnight oil, where one may most strongly associate that time with sleeping. Now I don't recommend actually fighting sleepiness in order to continue working, but if you're wide-awake and it's past your bedtime the dismissal of such conceptions will ease the burden on your mind.

To break such conceptions is easy: All you need to do is break routines. Since forming associations of events with certain time frames involves maintaining routines, all you really have to do is break those routines over and over again until you no longer sense it's a routine: have pancakes for dinner, do homework the moment you get up, take a bath at noon, get out of bed as soon as you're awake, and so on. Being varied in your routine makes it so you won't be able to "feel" that there's any consistency to your actions, so while you may do the same things over and over again you won't form the conception that they're usually associated with a certain time of day. You will most likely experience discomfort at first, but that should soon dissipate as you continuously embark outside your comfort zone and set new standards.

Another good method would be to keep yourself ignorant of the time by hiding time-telling devices, the same technique I noted for my study practices. I noticed that in the earliest points of my studies that I would use the clock (or anything I could derive time from) as a way to measure the speed of my efforts, and the more I paid attention to the clocks the more I feared my speed was inadequate and the less I concentrated on the actual content of my effort. After hiding time-telling devices, I managed to make myself indifferent to time and so solely concerned with my exertion, and now I've developed the point of comfort where I can look at time-telling devices without feeling nervous as to how it reflects on my efforts. If you're one to worry about how clocks and whatnot reflect on your own doings, study related or not, all you need to do is hide your devices best you can (take off your watch, pocket your phone, unmark "Show the clock" on your computer, etc.) and exercise discipline not to glance at whatever time is publicly displayed. In this day and age you don't need to worry about losing track of matters and missing scheduled events like appointments: Just set alarms for the appropriate time. If, however, your attachment to time is so intense that you think you might overly worry about it if you don't check it after a certain period, then set alarms so that you can be aware of what time it is at intervals but still be ignorant as to what time passes between those intervals. For instance, you could set an alarm to go off once an hour so you'll always know the hour, but will still be able to maintain obliviousness to the transitions between.

Once you successfully break your conceptions your emotions will be significantly changed: eating pancakes at nine PM won't feel "weird" and you won't feel hurried if you notice that you've dwelled on two pages for an hour. You'll no longer feel like you have isolated time frames to complete certain items either, for instead you'll wake up and feel like you have a full 24 hour period ahead of you to be accomplished for the day. By getting your emotions one more step out of the way, you're one more step closer to being able to maintain effortless productivity.

In my own life I tended to associate certain periods with relaxation, so I used to feel somewhat disappointed when I would choose another activity other than my usual routine. This interfered with things like studying, as I would daydream of recreating instead of the subject at hand. By eliminating those conceptions I have become much more fluid: I can easily adapt to changes in my efforts because I view my days as a limited set of hours to get things done, not chunks of time frames where certain activities must be grouped in certain spaces. Stop dividing your days into groups and suddenly it will feel like you have so much more time.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Unfortunately, it seems that another difficulty has spawned. For a long while now I thought it was but a temporary problem that would solve itself, but it has continued to persist and has demonstrated that it's not going away any time soon. Frustratingly, this means there's a sequel to the Circumstance I'm dealing with right now.

This disappoints me greatly since this but adds to the burden of all the stresses I have to deal with right now and increases my time of exposure to them. Life as such has become a little more irritating, and again its another case of dealing with an anti-value that's totally unnecessary and can be resolved easily, but with my own powers there is currently very little I can do.

Fortunately, the Project I have set in place is an antidote sufficient to solve both these problems with no modifications. This new difficulty has no impact on the duration of my Project either, so its ultimate impact is only that of making things a more stressful for the time being.

I'll cope with it. As I've said before, as long as I'm actively engaged in remedying my problems -- meaning working on my Project in this case -- the loose ends in my subconscious are actively being tied up and will leave my mind largely at peace. Hell is in idleness. For reference in the future I will refer to this new difficulty as "Circumstance 2" in order to distinguish it from the one I've been talking about in the past.

Life can be full of frustrations, but I'm no less intent on winning in the end. You know what I'm looking forward to tomorrow? My chocolate tasting in the morning. In times of problems it's important to keep an eye on what values there are. Mmm.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Weekly Summary 12/17/10 to 12/23/10

Another successful week. I managed to achieve virtually every single goal this week, except for one due to a minor technical failure. I read two articles from The Objective Standard, constructed a special article for another blog (I'll link to it if and when its posted), saved up for a duck to roast, completed chapter 15 of Good Calories, Bad Calories (completing eight conceptual exercises), completed chapter 6 of The Logical Leap (completing seven conceptual exercises), strived to construct a list of certain information for my Project, constructed over three entries in my introspection journal, got a library card from the library near my workplace, and decided upon and submitted a request for my next reading items. Last week I thought I was being overambitious and setting myself up for reaching beyond my grasp, but I actually got everything done early! It becomes easier to perform up to expectations when the expectations are clear.

The goal I failed on was practicing deep breathing daily, but only technically. One night this week I had been working very late and by the time I realized I hadn't done my ten minutes daily of deep breathing it was already four minutes to midnight: You can't squeeze a ten minute exercise into four minutes. It was an unpleasant surprise to realize that upon glancing at the clock, but I did maintain the practice for the rest of the week regardless and think I still have sufficient grounds for drawing a conclusion. In truth, I don't think this is a very valuable practice for me to continue except in certain circumstances. While practicing I sometimes felt like I was going to run out of air and so had to resort to deep breathing through my mouth to catch up, and the ultimate effect was only that I felt light-headed for a few seconds upon finishing. It didn't do anything to change how I feel throughout the day, except for help me deal with anxiety whenever I found myself unknowingly holding my breath. I don't want to continue doing this daily, but I will try to employ it whenever I do feel stress or have involuntary breathing difficulties.

Beyond this, I also learned a lot in general this week by being so active: Keeping myself physically occupied, it seems, has done well to keep me mentally active as well. I had philosophical insights, formed new self-improvement goals, thought of ways to make myself more productive, and more which I plan on elaborating on in the future on this blog. It's interesting: The more idle I am the less there seems to be to do, and the busier I become the more potentially busy I could become. The latter is always preferable: productivity makes all of life better.

Most importantly, I've learned that there are still some failings with my conceptual exercises. I think their current form is fine and all, but I'm still finding it to be particularly cumbersome to perform them. I promised myself that I would do the conceptual exercises whenever the need should arise in my reading, but I've instead been allowing myself to continuously put them off until the end of the reading. It's simply too distracting otherwise. At the very least, I've broken free of limiting myself to five exercises per reading and have been doing as many as I found I needed in the reading via circling the unfamiliar terms, and I attribute that to my changing priorities. Instead of circling each and every word that is an iota unfamiliar, I've been reserving myself to those terms where confusion is my dominant interpretation. Consequently, I've been circling fewer concepts and have been maintaining motivation to tackle whatever list I come up with.

I think my current resistance against my exercises has to do with speed. While I could organize my lists alphabetically to look them up in the most efficient order, it is still the case that I spend a lot of time turning pages in a dictionary for what I view to be of small benefit in isolation. It's even worse when it turns out my dictionary doesn't have the concept, meaning I've been shifting through pages for nothing. If I found a way to do my exercises quicker then maybe I'd be motivated to do a greater quantity more often. It immediately comes to mind that I should use the internet, which I think I'll give a try this week to see how it works. It won't solve the problem of my resistance to doing conceptual exercises mid-reading -- that will need further thinking and practice -- but this is worth trying for now. Proper concepts are the key to knowledge: I mustn't neglect this practice.

For my Project, I managed to construct a small list of -- things. We'll just have to leave it at that. The alternative means I'm contemplating is becoming more favorable to me, but I'm still not decided upon it yet and am somewhat distracted from thinking about it due to my studies. I got some good thinking leads in my research, but things will progress much more beneficially once I dedicate myself much more greatly to it. Since I'm set to finish TLL next week I'll wait and ponder until then.

Now, onto setting goals for next week. I certainly should be able to maintain this pacing since I've demonstrated myself fully capable of accomplishing this amount this week. Study-wise, I want to read two more articles of TOS, complete chapter 16 of GCBC, and finish TLL

I'd also like to throw in a few self-improvement goals as well. One of the things I've learned while being so productive this week is how much time I waste with having poor concentration, so I'd like to work on that. I found out that I have a "trigger": If I pace around I tend to daydream a lot. So, this week I'd like to work on reducing the amount of unfruitful pacing. For general use of time, I'd like to establish the habit of getting out of bed as soon as I reach the conclusion I can no longer continue productively resting. Most of my day is actually wasted by lazing too long in bed or going about my morning routine too slowly, so I want to work on building up momentum much quicker. It's easy: All I have to do is get out of bed and move faster. Lastly, I'd like to begin establishing the habit of writing out a list in my introspection journal of good things that have happened to me on each day. My life is currently stressful and has some significant anti-values in it, so while I'm working to make matters otherwise I need someway to bring my attention back to the good things lest I under-appreciate them.

I can think of other self-improvement goals as well, but again caution must be exercised: If I take on too much at once I tend to find myself unable to maintain all the efforts. While I might be excited to immediately take on another venture, it must wait if I am thoroughly engaged in other ones. To keep future ventures in mind, I'll add an extra section to my Short-term Aims and Concentration List titled "For Future Reference" and will document in an approximate hierarchy what I'd like to take on in the future.

On a side note, one might think that this week would be the perfect opportunity to establish that recipe system I've been talking about, but now I'm having second thoughts. I've been thinking the other day about the important role of having one's emotions set in harmony with one's habits as a way of easily maintaining efforts, and I realized that my recipe system is probably counter-intuitive. It would take hours and hours to document all the stuff I have bookmarked on my websites -- and for what? Something I might hardly look at and could always easily reference on the internet. I need to think about formulating a better system, one that would require a minimum of writing and employ the maximum amount of informational benefit. The way I structure my life now I find that I don't need a recipe system, so maybe I need to make alterations in my life first in order to be able to view the system as something that would make my life easier and more efficient. Until I come up with that answer or at least something to try, I'm not going to bother spending so much time writing recipe cards if I think it has a chance of being a waste. I'll be talking about this in the future.  

Onto pursuing life.

Chocolate Review: Theo's 70% Cherry & Almond

Mildness does not necessarily need to be a bad attribute; given the right context, it could really add depth to a chocolate. When the attribute is in balance with other flavor players and can be distinguished from them, for instance, it merely adds to the complexity of the treat. If it's so mild that it can't be detected, however, then why include it? Today in consideration is Theo's 70% Cherry & Almond.

Strangely enough, this was a difficult variety to unravel. I enjoy the intellectual challenge, but this was a challenge of digging up vices and not virtues. Just about every aspect of this bar is so weak that it hardly impinges on the conscious in any significant way and is hardly strong enough to stimulate pleasure. Plus it promises one thing on the wrapper and delivers another, and how disappointing it is to have promises broken by confectionery!

To start, the chocolate itself is quite bland. If it were any weaker then I'd imagine it'd be all texture and no taste. At 70% cacao I expect a somewhat strong experience, but it tastes merely of conventional bittersweet chocolate like you find in the baking aisles of your grocery store, and is equal portions bitter and sweet, which cancels each other out in a way. The cherries are there to be sure, but they're even milder than the chocolate itself, so they enter the field of awareness only on the very edge of one's peripheral perception. I can clearly tell that its cherry I'm tasting, but its so weak that I cannot identify its exact nature: no tang, tartness, sour sweetness, or the like. The almonds I could not taste at all, which is odd since I can clearly see them integrated in the chocolate: Here we have the odd paradox of something being present and absent at the same time. Furthermore, the whole experience is just one long boring note with no starts or finishes.

The mouthfeel is just acceptable. The sections snap loudly and there's a crunch at every bite, but it shortly enough become soft and yielding to your internal body heat. I fully expected the cherries to add some stickiness here and there, but here's where they themselves vanish without a trace and the almonds become assertive. The bite starts out hard and crunchy, slowly softens into a viscous paste, and finishes off dry. It's strange that something could be moist and be perceived as dry, but the almonds have pulled it off.

The aroma brings back to mind again the excessive mildness. The chocolate is the dominate player, but that's hardly saying much since the aroma is so weak as to be nearly imperceptible. The cacao is of a fruity nature, certainly cherry, but again its so mild that it hardly impacts the consciousness. As for the almonds: Where did they go again?

Let us not neglect the aesthetics: the ugliness is continued in this brand. I am more fond of the packaging of this variety than I am of the others since it's brighter and has nice photography of the cherries, but the chocolate bar is horrendous. Again: ugly rectangles without decoration, no shine, chocolate "dust" and shards everywhere, and even smears. Given that other companies can produce much cheaper chocolates and make them look worlds better there is simply no excuse for such ghastliness. 

The primary vice here is that everything is mild to excess. It hardly comes off as being anything of any sort, so any more mildness would just make this bar a block of "stuff." Since it includes both almond pieces and oil I would expect a far more nutty experience, but I can only detect the almonds in the finish of the mouthfeel. Everything is so boring that I find this variety to be totally worth passing up.

Theo is rather a mixed bag to my interpretation. I love the balance of their orange bar, but, in addition to the present variety in consideration, I dislike their mint since the cacao is weak in that one too and there was also an out-of-place note of rye. Given certain processes, base recipes, and premises a company should perform rather consistently, so I'm suspicious that it may be their very source of cacao that I dislike. Nonetheless, I have found value in this company and will continue watching them for more of their works; their single-origin chocolates are on my wish list.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Update on Reading

The major reason why I have been avoiding my local library is because it's so far away. With my Project still in the works, it's quite inconvenient to have to drive so far and burden my fuel costs. It also affects my car insurance, because I utilize a tracking device of the sorts that keeps track of my driving habits and adjusts my discounts accordingly. I love the library, but have been away for months now. Luckily, there's a library right by my workplace, so since I'm going to be in that area anyways on a regular basis I got a library card there and can resume my habits. Nice!

I've also decided which books I'm going to read now, and have accordingly submitted the requests: Cyrano De Bergerac for fine literature, Capitalism Unbound for economics, and Becoming a Chef for my career aspirations. Given my current pacing it may seem like I'm committing myself to a lot, but why not be ambitious so as to push for improvement? Besides, I still have time to finish up my other subjects while I wait for these to be delivered to my library location and can also rent these an infinite amount of times if my reading speed should prove inadequate.

Although I don't plan on studying these formally since I'll be shifting my concentration to my Project shortly, I do plan on setting reading goals so as to establish a consistent momentum and sense of obligation to commit myself. I will be tracking my goals on this blog, and will also give a mini-review in my Weekly Summary when I do finish reading them. All in all, I hope I'm hitting my interests correctly: I thought that Becoming a Chef might give me too much an excess to read, but I've decided that I've put off my culinary education long enough. I might be cooking, but to become the best I can possibly be in my central purpose in life I need to make food take up more thinking than it does now.

As for my Project, I, of course, still cannot tell you what I'm doing, so it's going to be awkward trying to detail my weekly goals in regards to it. Is it sufficient to say I want to accomplish "things" during the week? Regardless, it's necessary. Soon I'll have much more power over my affairs and will be able to reveal all.

That's my plan for now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bacon Tongue Explosion Fail

As mentioned in my bacon heart explosion recipe post, I went ahead last weekend and tried making a bacon explosion with a whole beef tongue...and failed unfortunately.The end result was very delicious, but terribly textured. As you might guess, the problem was with the outer skin.

For those of you who have never seen a whole beef tongue before, it comes with a skin that is of a very leathery texture and has a sandpaper roughness near the root of the muscle. It's melded completely to the meat while raw, but with a little cooking it peels off just like wrapping plastic. I've cooked tongue in a slow cooker before and have always remarked at how the skin comes off without effort or strain.

How to accomplish this with par cooking, however, is a conundrum I need to solve. Time is of the essence in making that skin peel right off, and there needs to be a balance between having the muscle cooked enough for the skin to come off but still be raw enough to roast with it wrapped in bacon. What I did was boil the tongue for fifteen minutes while I prepared the bacon grid and tried to peel it before wrapping and roasting. It didn't cook long enough, however, as the skin was still melded tight. I didn't know whether it would be wise to continue boiling it at that stage, so I settled and went with it as is. The skin isn't inedible or hard to chew; it just really throws off the aesthetics of the dish. The grid didn't wrap perfectly around the tongue given its shape, but I improvised and it worked out alright. I roasted it until it was approximately 140 degree Fahrenheit, medium rare.

Whatever its failure in texture, it was delicious! I couldn't season it before going in since the skin is impervious to it, but I made fine with a shaker full of sea salt. The meat was nice, mildly beefy, and not at all cumbersome to chew. I'd actually be willing to make it this way again. Compared to the beef heart version, I'd say they're about equal flavor-wise, though the ground beef heart is more functional and versatile.

I will take to solving this conundrum in the future however. Could I perhaps slow cook the tongue, peel off the skin, and quickly broil the bacon around it? Boil it for longer? Find a way to ground up the tongue beforehand? A subject of research and thinking. This is such a delicious combination that I am moved to make it work.

At the very least, my failure was delicious enough to provoke the glutton in me: I ate the whole tongue and all the bacon in one day.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Project Thinking Update: Shift Reading Emphasis?

As mentioned in my most recent weekly summary, I am soon coming to the end of one or two of my study subjects and may soon need to replace them, but I say "may" because there are other concerns and possibilities. I am still contemplating that alternative means to completing my big Project -- though in what degree I should implement it, not whether or not I should use the method -- and engaging myself in that means could have a significant impact on my studies.

This alternative means is not only very demanding for action and research, but is also free of independent variables. In other words, as soon as the alternative means is successfully implemented, the Project is virtually complete right then and there. The means I had been depending on up until now is heavily dependent on independent variables, so what I've mostly been doing these past few months is a lot of waiting for things to shift in my favor, which has been very agonizing. The alternative means gives me slightly more power over myself, is more valuable, and requires more active participation. Very tempting, but it still in question as to what degree I could achieve it.

The requirements for action in this means is making me reconsider changing the nature of my studies for a short while. When I had first conceptualized my Project and was engaged in its earliest steps I actually put my studies down altogether to concentrate on the Project entirely, only allowing for casual reading. When the independent variables stalled me, that's when I undertook to take up my books again and reformat my study system to feed my mind while I wait. Well, I'm just about done waiting.

So when I'm finished with The Logical Leap and The Objective Standard I'm considering replacing them with books I'll only engage as pure reading, such as classic literature, rather than dedicating myself to another formal study subject with note-taking. To do so would free up time and energy for my Project, which the alternative means would need since it involves a lot of intellectual exertion and stamina.

The next question, then, is what books do I pick up? I ought to strive to come up with an answer by next week, so as to give my library the time to receive the books (they rarely have on shelf what I want). I might even consider violating my reading system by selecting from crossed-out sections in order to give myself more to select from.

I'll aim to come up with an answer by my next weekly summary about what I'll choose to read and will also contemplate how I'll word my weekly goals for my Project.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Weekly Summary 12/10/10 - 12/16/10 and Project Thinking Update

For once I managed to achieve all my weekly goals! I read an article from The Objective Standard, read chapter 14 of Good Calories, Bad Calories (completing eight conceptual exercises), and read chapter five of The Logical Leap (completing eight conceptual exercises). Additionally, I purchased those hard notes cards I need for my recipe system, extensively edited some private documents essential to my Project, and did some research to advance my thinking and knowledge about that alternative means for my Project. I could have been a little bit more active, but I pushed this week and have something to show for it; surely something to be proud of. See? I'm back on the horse again, much in contrast with other miserable weeks. Though, of course, I won't allow myself to feel safe, for momentum always requires effort to maintain it, no matter how easy it becomes; allow for slip-ups or become lazy and soon progress will come undone. The pushing must continue.

I think the main reason why it was so much easier to advance through my studies this time around is because the fifth chapter of TLL, The Atomic Theory, was WAY easier to comprehend than the prior chapters. The prior chapters relied on mathematical concepts I haven't integrated yet and couldn't understand with the dictionary, so most of the material was something I was struggling with, and was consequently having a hard time concentrating on. This chapter, while difficult, differed in that I was much more able to understand the language and concepts being used, so I followed along with incredibly greater ease and found my scientific interest being kindled up and fed again. This goes to show, again, that this book will be worth rereading after I do some other learning to help me understand better. Due to my having not fully understood the prior chapters, I didn't gain all that I could from this chapter since it serves as a corollary to the material I have yet to grasp. I'm contemplating picking up a more general science education book after this one to help me gain a firmer foundation, and I don't care if I have to resort to elementary-level texts: I'm behind in my learning. Regardless, I think this chapter was great and entertained my mind intensely. I am but two chapters away from finishing this book, so what to replace this with will be a subject of writing soon enough.

During my study I also identified a new method that I wish I would have thought of before. It's so good that I'm going to dedicate a separate post for it, so for now I'll say I should pinch myself for being so slow.

Now: The Project. As you might remember, I'm currently entertaining a alternative means to complete my Project that would require more effort and perhaps more time, but the payoff would be greater. It's been about two or three weeks since I've started entertaining it, and I'm still not yet decided. My current status is that of halfway commitment to it: I see the value of of pursuing the specific method, but I'm still hesitant upon the notion of implementing it to the fullest degree I've been entertaining. It's involves a lot to contemplate and is a very serious decision, so a due date on my thinking would be foolish; I'm taking my time. I am making good progress in my thinking nonetheless, and hope to reach a decision within two or so weeks -- maybe.

Oddly enough, even though I'm busying myself with my Project I still find myself flustered by the Circumstance; the difference this time is that I'm not dwelling on it to the point I can't function. For instance, I'll be able to go through my day fine and enjoy my work, rewards, and whatnot, but when I go to bed I could be suddenly seized by a fit of ferocious anger. Such anger seems to be disrupting me at random times of the day, so I notice no consistency in the pattern. I suspect that it's because I'm so close to establishing the sight of the end of this Project: I'm experiencing my "final motivation" to overcome this Circumstance.

This week I'd like to make things just a little bit more ambitious, though not in the study realm since I'm still progressing slowly there. For my studies, I'd like to complete one chapter of both the books I'm reading and two articles for The Objective Standard. Writing-wise, I'd like to maintain the pacing on this blog, construct a special post for Modern Paleo, and construct three entries in my freshly restarted introspection journal (I'll talk more about that later). Toward my Project, I'd like to do some research that culminates in the various ways that I could utilize this alternative means, to help me in my thinking as to whether to implement it or not. Finally, for stress I'm going to do a one-week trial of deep breathing exercises to see if it makes me more relaxed.

Being back on the horse may be good on its own, but I need to progress and get on the horned bull.

Chocolate Review: Dagoba's 74% Xocolatl

Complex chocolates are by far my favorite to taste. Sure, a simple, two-note chocolate could still qualify as good given that the attributes are strong, complementary to each other, and balanced, but with complexity there's more substance to contemplate. You can't derive full enjoyment from such a chocolate just by passively eating it; your intellect and attention is demanded in order to obtain the full experience you can get from such a bar. Today in consideration is a particularly complex bar, Dagoba's 74% Xocolatl. I'm not sure what xocolatl means, so to be clear: This is 74% cacao chocolate with cacao nibs and chilies.

The first thing that struck me right off the bat is how different this bar looked. In contrast to the Beacoup Berries and Superfruit bar I reviewed, this bar is much darker in appearance; has no tone fluctuations, color hues, cracks, or "dust"; and has a pretty decent shine. It much more attractive than those reviewed before it; in fact, it looks pretty much the archetype of what you'd expect a dark chocolate to look like. Obviously this chocolate goes through the conching process for a longer period of time.

Biting in is to enter a world of complexity. For the first time in my tasting I've come across a chocolate that is neither sweet nor bitter: It's savory! It has a definite, mild chocolate note to it, but there's also a woody attribute that makes me think of trees in autumn. Every time you come across a cacao nib these savory notes give away to a burst of delectably sugary sweetness and pure fruit. I was surprised at just how fruity these cacao nibs were, given that I got a nutty impression in Endangered Species' own cacao nibs bar. This constant switching back and forth between foresty savoriness and fruity sweetness made for a novel experience.

After the first few bites I thought that the chilies added nothing -- I ignorantly thought they meant chili with an "i," my current favorite spice blend -- but when the heat caught on I was refuted. After quite a long delay, the heat climbed up to peak spiciness immediately and perched right at the top of my throat and lingered there for several minutes. For my own tolerance, the heat was perfect: no pain or disappointing weakness. I had not the least temptation to get any water or milk. This further adds to the novelty of the experience, as with small enough bites one could be entertained with constant climbs to and falls from warmth.

The mouthfeel gives further evidence that this bar has been conched longer, but not too much towards pleasure. Each bite is soft and yielding without being crumbly or causing messy fissures. It melts at an acceptable rate, but I do wish for something creamier. The nibs add a nice crispiness here and there, but not to the caliber of ES' bar. All in all, dandy and acceptable, but not great.

One thing that entertained me throughout my tasting is the aroma. It too is complex! It's all so subtle, but for once the chocolate doesn't dominate. Playing on stage alongside of it are notes of spiciness, perhaps that of ginger specifically, and a dried bouquet of flowers. All three notes have equal presence and sing in harmony. I daresay this would make a nicely masculine scent for a man to wear. I kept taking in the aroma right down to the last bite.

This bar must be savored. One cannot enjoy it as a simple quick snack. Given the time and patience, I recommend breaking off each rectangle in portions of one or two and taking as small of bites as possible. Given that each bar only comes in two ounce portions, you've got to make it last. I didn't find it particularly hard to distinguish the characteristics, so if you'd like to practice your own chocolate connoisseurship, this is a good place to practice: aromatic, shifting flavors, rising and falling temperatures --.

There are still some improvements that could be made, however. The conching Dagoba did has certainly led to a better looking bar, but the mouthfeel leaves more to be desired. Also, the cacao nibs don't seem to make a dominant enough appearance, so I'd like to see a greater quantity of them incorporated in, or perhaps a another bar dedicated to it if the balance in this one is not to be upset. Otherwise: This chocolate is good.

In conclusion, this bar is assertive and recessive in all the right spots, wonderfully masculine in its aromatics, attractive, and beautifully balanced between all it's players. The savory note of the chocolate is a little off-putting for me, but it's so unique that I can't help but want to try this bar again; it's a true connoisseur's treat. I recommend this variety.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chocolate Review: Tomorrow!

If you're a regular here, I bet I know what you're thinking: Where's the weekly chocolate review?! Well, to my misfortune the internet was out all day and I didn't have the chance to schedule the review beforehand. Consequently, today: nothing.

Though I won't make you wait another week. My chocolate review -- and weekly summary -- will be published tomorrow at their usual times, starting with the chocolate review at noon pacific. Hopefully there are no disruptions next week.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Enough with the E-mails, Godiva

As a chocolate connoisseur it should be an obvious corollary that I like reading and learning about chocolate. Just tasting it isn't enough, you know. Consequently, I've subscribed to the mailing lists of several chocolate companies like Lindt, Endangered Species, New Tree, and so on.

While I enjoy reading even their advertisements, one company has been going overboard this season: Godiva. I know it's the Christmas season and all, but Godiva is sending me an e-mail virtually everyday. Everyday. Worse yet, it's rarely anything new! They keep saying the same thing over and over and over again: They're having a chocolate sale with free shipping, they're having a chocolate sale with free shipping, they're having a chocolate sale with free shipping....I understood the first time! Their single-origin bar is wonderful, but do I really need to hear from them everyday?

In contrast, I hardly hear from the other chocolate companies. Endangered Species sends me an e-mail only a few times a month, and Lindt and Ghirardelli maybe only once a month. New Tree, I think, has only sent me one e-mail since I've subscribed. They're pretty quiet.

Enough with the chocolate sale notification, alright Godiva? Save up all your information for just one long e-mail a few times a month.

Broiled Red Bell Pepper Soup and Hearty Meatballs

Last week I made broiled red bell pepper soup and ate it alongside some beef heart meatballs. To date this has got to be my favorite type of soup, and I'm usually picky about soup since I usually prefer density with my sustenance. I know I would usually write out the recipe myself, but since little to no adaption is involved, why?

The soup came out perfect, though I think I need to ticker with the ingredients a bit to optimize it. I used garlic powder instead of minced garlic, and I have to say that I noticed no different in the end-result and will continue using this shortcut. This is also the first time I've ever used basil in a dish, so I was disappointed to find that it had little to no impact on the final product. It looks great as a garnish, but I still don't know what it tastes like. I need to try another dish to get a sense of its flavor profile, so perhaps I might try a tomato soup in the future.

Most significantly, I've learned again how the quality of the ingredients can make a difference. There's a big taste difference between conventional and organic cream, and organic cream certainly tastes better, so I was disappointed by the weak creaminess of the soup, though not in texture. Unless you plan on purchasing them fairly consistently, I'd actually recommend staying away from things such as sea salt and organic cream because you'll be eternally dissatisfied with the other alternatives from then on out. Such wonderful taste you cannot forget!

I did goof up on the meatballs. All I did was take about 3/4 a pound of beef heart and add an egg and a tsp of salt to it before portioning and pan frying it. It tasted pretty good, especially when dunked in the soup, but they didn't hold together very well. I should have added in some coconut flour to hold in the moisture; while it does seem like an odd choice from a taste perspective, beef heart is strong enough to override any coconut notes if the flour is only incorporated to the bare minimum. I'll give that a shot next time.

All in all, this is a soup I'd like to add to my regular menu again. I especially love poaching eggs in it.  

Monday, December 13, 2010

Lovability Update

Don't think I've forgotten about my goal of developing a more lovable self, did you? I haven't; I merely have been procrastinating on writing about it. Things are going exemplary; in fact, I would go so far as to consider this goal complete in the confines that I have defined it.

To refresh your memory, in anticipation of future romantic pursuits I have been working to develop the traits that I consider to be part of an ideal self and would thus be desirable to the type of person I would want to appeal to. I certainly have a lot of work to do in regards to aesthetics -- though I must be careful to distinguish between sincere traits and second-handedness (e.g. being polite as a consequence of a benevolent sense of life rather than striving to please others) -- but for now I have chosen to concentrate on two essentials: Keeping anti-values out of my conversations as much as possible and being honest in my words and actions. To track my progress I have written two categories in my pocket notepad, "honesty" and "conversation", and have been putting slash marks next to them whenever I commit a violation by being dishonest (in whatever degree or form) or adding too many anti-values to my conversations, though the latter isn't absolute.

These categories never posed too much of a problem in my life to begin with, so I've never gone above adding two or three slash marks in a single day. With practice, however, I've managed to get it where I never add slash marks to these categories anymore. By striving to self-improve in these areas I have kept them in the forefront of my mind, and by doing that I have altered my habits. In trying to change oneself for the better, habit is key. The only further improvement I can make in this realm, I think, is to continue my practices and further ingrain the habits. Consequently, even though I really don't need them anymore I will continue to write out the above categories in my notepad so that I'll maintain a constant awareness of them throughout my days. Even if I never add another slash mark next to them again, it's always good to know what role honesty and value-oriented conversation plays in my life.

I have also been making progress in other pursuits beyond this. I don't remember whether or not I've mentioned this before, but in the past I've been having trouble expressing my ideas, the content of my true being, without experiencing emotional discomfort. Consequently, most of the time I've have been overly reserved in person rather than being as expressive and open as I'd want to be. This is not only bad for my lovability goals (you need to be open about your ideas if you want them to appeal to another person), but also for my goals in influencing the culture for the better. I can't change the ideas in the culture if I don't speak about my own, no? This is an important thing to change. Through whatever unknown mechanism I have activated, I have managed to become a lot more comfortable in expressing my ideas. The emotional barriers just seem to be slowly diminishing. It seems odd to me that this is happening since I haven't taken any conscious action towards establishing such comfort, but it is nonetheless happening. I hypothesize that it may be due to me becoming more comfortable with the people I constantly deal with, so I'm not truly sure about my status in regards to sharing my ideas with complete strangers. Something to test out?

From here on out I think I mainly need to work on ingraining these habits and making them more intense in degree. To accomplish that all I need to do is merely continue my current practices. As for the aesthetics I mentioned above, I refer specifically to the portions of personality that give rise to one's style of expression; to improve these features, I'll pursue an enrichment of my intelligence and wisdom through study and allow the personality traits to arise naturally from these.

It's hazy to me as to when exactly I could have considered this goal largely achieved, but nonetheless I consider this an accomplishment by this date. This also means that now there's more room to pick up other self-improvement ventures, but I want to be careful. Too often I have been in the habit of picking up venture after venture until the point is reached that I simply cannot maintain awareness of them all, resulting in my neglecting them all in some way. What to do next will be food for future thought.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Weekly Summary 12/3/10 - 12/9/10

Yet another good week; the ball is still rolling! This week I completed one article for The Objective Standard and chapter four of  The Logical Leap, completing ten conceptual exercises for the latter. I simply ran out of time for Good Calories, Bad Calories. My momentum, otherwise, was great: I hardly dwelled on the Circumstance and could concentrate and think well. My other goals were tripped up by technical details. I intended to establish my recipe documentation system, but it turns out that I accidentally purchased soft paper notes, not hard note cards, so I don't have the material I intended to use and won't be shopping until probably Wednesday or Thursday of next week. The Project I will speak about below. 

The most important thing I learned is how inadequate my present context of knowledge is for my comprehension of TLL. The Circumstance hardly hindered me this week, so I was largely unimpeded in my reading efforts and was still having a very difficult time comprehending the information and advancing forward. The information is very dense for my level of knowledge and goes over my head much of the time, even with the conceptual exercises at the end of the chapter. This will most likely be only my first run of this book, as I might benefit better from it if I reread it a few times over my life as my context of knowledge changes and grows over time. It might be difficult now, but hey, maybe not after a study of physics. I am still doing some valuable learning right now despite my difficulties, so I will maintain my efforts and keep in mind that this will be a book for rereading in the future. The challenge will be worthwhile in the end.  

Now as to my Project, it's moving forward in regards to the amount of things I need to contemplate and research, if not materialistically. That is enough, I think, to satisfy my subconscious' need for activity in solving my problems. The present means I'm contemplating right now is very complicated and big, so I couldn't reach a definitive conclusion on what I'd like to do despite my constantly trying to think towards that end. Considering how drastic it is, it would be foolish to try and rush a decision for the sake of mere efficiency. I'll maintain constant effort towards solving this intellectual problem and will exempt myself from reaching a definitive decision on any particular date. You'll be notified of the results when they occur.

To take a general view, this week has been wonderful. I've hardly been dwelling on the Circumstance, been performing well at work, am keeping my mind on my pursuits, am maintaining a consistent level of productivity, and more. My sense of life has gotten a boost from all this effort and I feel more intellectually active and rigorous than I have in a while. Now this is a bit closer to my ideal level of functioning! Much better than that week in which the Circumstance bothered me to the point that I failed to get anything done, no? Combining my writing efforts, cooking practice, and involvement in my Project I think I could maintain my emotional health well enough to continue on with this pace and even improve my efforts. This is what the power of tying up loose ends in one's subconscious can accomplish. Mental health really is key in one's ability to function happily day-to-day.

What I shall dedicate myself to this week is rather perplexing. In the study realm I'd like to maintain the momentum for now: one of every study subject. I'll probably be buying the hard note cards too late in the week to be able to write down and establish my recipe system: It takes hours. In my Project I could take to trying to complete research on a specific portion of it, one important to my decision as to whether or not I want to implement the alternative means, but I guess it doesn't help to mention it considering how vague I have to be.

I guess maybe it would be best to try to stay the course for this week and increase the quantity of my productive effort before I decide to change up the endeavors involved. I don't think I'm squeezing out 100% of the work I could be getting out of myself as of yet, so it might be best to work to intensify my current habits and try to ingrain them.

I hope your productive endeavors are going well too.