REVIEW: SOMA Strawberry Black Pepper Bar

Ahhh, SOMA. You can do me no wrong.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a big fan of fruit and chocolate together, and clearly strawberries and chocolate are a well loved combination. SOMA kicked that beloved partnership up with a bit of black pepper, which intrigued me — one of my favourite summer dishes a few years ago was strawberries roasted with balsamic and pepper!

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I was expecting a little sweet, a little spice, and of course, delicious smooth SOMA chocolate. What happened in my mouth, though, was salt. Lots and lots of salt. Not in a bad way, but when this bar touches your mouth, it’s the first thing you might notice. In fact, I didn’t really notice a lot of pepper at all.

The chocolate is deep and dark and smooth, the strawberries are chewy and sweet, and the flavours all combine in a really intense way — until they fade out almost as quickly. If you’re trying this one out, focus on the first few seconds of the taste experience, because that’s where all the fun is.

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Year Four

Four years ago it was was pouring rain in my mom’s backyard in Brockville, and I was sitting outside by myself, sheltered under the gazebo, eating cold pizza crusts, staring at the outdoor setup for our wedding, and hoping the sun would find its way to us. Hours later, the seats had dried, the sun peeked out from behind the cloud cover, and we were married in the glow of daylight — light that stuck around and fended off the rain for the rest of the ceremony and into our reception. It didn’t rain a single drop more.

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And now I’m here in my house in northern Ontario. My mornings look a lot different, these days. There is no leisurely pizza-eating. It’s usually a whirlwind of trying to evict our almost-three-year-old out of her bed, or OUR bed, scheduling showers and scarfing cereal and packing preschool bags and crossing my fingers that I can throw some coffee into my mouth before I have to navigate the strange circle that is the childcare drop-off parking system because people don’t understand physics at 8:30 a.m.

That rain turning into sun has stuck with me over the last four years, though, in that transition from newlyweds to celebrating our fourth year of marriage (we figure it’s the traditional fruit and flower anniversary because after four years of marriage odds are your budget may only support a bouquet and some apples). I feel like every year I come back and say wow, that was busy, wow that was tough sometimes, wow, we made it, but this year I don’t know what else I could say but we survived the rain.

My dear husband acted as a guiding light this past year — even through his own hurt — and helped me find shelter and shore. And like the sun came out on our wedding day, and dried up our surroundings and lit our way down the aisle, love came out of all of that pain.

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It was one of the hardest years of my life, of our lives. But we made it, and we’re stronger, and despite all of the horribleness, we worked together to help the sun shine again. Life looks nothing like we plan, more often than not, and sometimes it feels like it is flying past caught in the blur of a toddler, and sometimes it gets mired in the for the love of everything please help me with laundry pitfalls, and sometimes it all rests in a semi-conscious hug in the middle of the night, with a baby kicking in my belly and the knowledge that we’ll wake up tomorrow and do it all again, happy, because we’re all together.

We’re taking our kid to dinner with us tonight, because of course given the opportunity she gleefully said “I wanna go out to eat TOO!” One day we’ll have kids old enough to leave at home, or we’ll get a babysitter set up in advance, but for now? For now I’m glad to celebrate all that we’ve built in the last four years, little ones included. I can’t toast to us with anything stronger than juice, and I’ll probably have at least half my attention on making sure hands stay out of water glasses, and it may not be very exotic or adult or luxurious, but it’s us. And it’s our family. And that’s perfect.

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Fall is Coming

Fall has arrived on our doorstep, suddenly and sharply. That seems to happen, here — one day it’s hot, sweaty summer, and the next, we’re pulling out our extra layers from the depths of the hall closet and though there are still a few sunny days scattered throughout September and October, the leaves change colour overnight and we never step into our summer shorts again that year.

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I don’t mind fall. It’s actually one of my favourite seasons, which makes its short length in northern Ontario kind of depressing. We don’t get that slow foray into autumnal temperatures and weather, the sweaters and boots, the pumpkin spice everything stretching out for months. We get maybe a month and a half of trees dropping their leaves as fast as they can, a frantic rush to make sure everyone has the boots and coats they need, a few weekends of desperately chopping and stacking wood, and then we drink our pumpkin spice lattes while watching snowdrifts build up on the lawn.

So I wish it would last longer, fall, but I’ve been around here long enough that I know what to expect, now. My kid literally has five snowsuits on the way. I know my husband needs a new coat. I know one of mine is pretty much done for, but that my backup coat will work for this winter, anyway. ORDER WOOD is written large on our to-do list. The boat’s on dry land for good for the year. After what… eight years here? All of the grown-up fall and winter tasks are just part of the routine.

I do still get those did we do enough, see enough, accomplish enough this summer? feelings when fall comes around, though. Summer is so short, and every year I feel like we wasted it. I have to go back and think about all we did to feel better about the time that’s elapsed, when I consider things like the fact that we only made it to the beach twice. TWICE!

But the biggest thing was, of course, working on growing a baby. That took a lot of energy out of the whole season, along with ever-present home reno pressures. Everyone got sick a lot. There wasn’t a lot of spare time left. We still managed a few trips — Winnipeg, and a solo jaunt to Toronto for me. We hosted family quite a bit, and had probably our busiest summer festival yet. We hung around home a lot, but we had fun. It was a quieter, lazier summer than most, but it worked.

And now, we’re ramping up to different things. We have scheduled kid activities and a baby on the way and drywall dust flying. It’s a season of anticipation in many ways, and it’ll be officially starting in less than a week. Summer 2016 is over, and we’re on to fall!

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Treat Yo’self: Prenatal Massage

We have some fairly awesome benefits thanks to Matt’s job, benefits which we didn’t have when I was pregnant with M. At my second-last prenatal appointment I asked the doctor to write me a prescription for massage therapy, which she did immediately, so now I’ve got an Rx that will last for a year. I booked a prenatal massage despite not feeling like I really needed it — within the two or three weeks that spanned between setting it up and going in, I definitely needed it.

With M, my lower right back hurt a lot on days when I was really active and I’m finding the same, this time around. But, whether it’s because I’m feeling/weighing larger, because I already have a kid to tote around, or my body is like ‘oh yeah we know how to do this fall apart thing now!’, I’ve been feeling extra-cumbersome. My back hurts regularly, and it’s even worse when I do a lot of moving.

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Lots of lying around going on here.

I had no idea what to expect — I’ve only ever had a relaxation massage, once — but I’m very glad I booked the appointment! The massage therapist had a pillow with a hollowed out belly area, so I wasn’t uncomfortable lying down. I was able to pick out the scent of massage oil I wanted, and she checked in with me regularly to make sure I was still comfortable with my position and the pressure she was using.

We also talked about a huge array of birth and parenting related topics, which was actually quite nice — she told me a bit about being a mom to boys, and navigating bringing a second child home, and it turned out that both of our firstborns were born in a similar fashion (posterior baby resulting in a c-section without pushing, despite a long labour). I heard her perspective on choosing a scheduled c-section, which is of interest to me — right now I’m slated to trial a VBAC, but I’m not going to die on that particular cross so I’m open to hearing all kinds of stories.

A week or two after I had that massage, I decided to book another one, so I’m heading back soon. It felt nice to do something for myself, and it really did help my back. I think I’m paying something like $2 per massage thanks to the benefits coverage, so why not?

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REVIEW: Wild Ophelia Barbecue Potato Chip

Wild Ophelia has some pretty out there flavours. I first ran into this brand, part of the Vosges Haut-Chocolat company, on vacation in South Carolina a few years ago and neglected to buy anything because I thought I could come back later and get it. And then they stopped carrying the bars in any easy-to-find locations on the east coast, and I was SOL.

When I was in Toronto I saw a stack of chocolate bars, including Wild Ophelia, at the checkout in Blue Banana and grabbed the first one I saw (I wish I had taken more time and grabbed a few more but I was kind of going crazy with chocolate purchases at the time). So that’s how I finally got my hands on a Wild Ophelia Barbecue Potato Chip bar.

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I legitimately had no idea what to expect with this one. I’ve never had Vosges/Wild Ophelia chocolate. Verdict? The best word I could come up with was odd.

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The texture reminded me of the Theo Bread & Chocolate bar in that it was really obvious that there were actual little pieces of crunchy chips mixed in thoroughly with the chocolate. The taste itself was much more intense than I had expected —  it was barbecue, but hot burning barbecue not sweet barbecue. In fact the whole thing was not very sweet at all, probably owning to the dark, dark chocolate and that paprika kick. I was really surprised by the spice.

This isn’t a bar I’d buy again but it shows me that the Wild Ophelia bars are definitely a flavour experience! I’m still hoping to track them down in an easier to buy format, especially because their line of peanut butter cups is calling my name.

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