By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox, performance photos courtesy Opera National de Paris (OnP)*
The exterior of the Opera Bastille (click for full size)
In December we attended a most enjoyable sold out performance of La Traviata at the Paris Opera Bastille. The opera by Giuseppe Verdi with the orchestra and chorus of the Opera National de Paris began at 7:30 p.m. and concluded at approximately 10:40 p.m. Ticket prices ranged from 5 euros to 231 euros. Our tickets were in Optima Class in the Parterre section (7A97 and 7A98). In order to have an clear view of the stage I had to switch sweats.
The modern architecture of the Opera Bastille viewed from near the stage (click for full size)
The opera was divided into three acts. The first act lasted 35 minutes followed by a 30 minute intermission. The second part lasted just over one hour and was followed by a 25 minute intermission. The final act lasted 35 minutes.
Ermonela Jaho was Violetta – (c) Sébastien Mathé – OnP
While the first act was the biggest crowd pleaser we, and judging by the enthusiastic applause the rest of the attendees, liked the entire opera. There was a gender bending scene that raised some eyebrows. A man seated next to us took exception to the orchestra, booing on multiple occasions.
It was toasty warm inside the theater. The only sour notes were the hard to find box office, where we had to run at the last minute due to processing issues with our credit card, and the pungent urine smell in the ladies room nearest to our seats.
Dramatic staging for a confrontation – (c) Sébastien Mathé – OnP
The program was in French and English. Supra-titles high above the stage and on screens on either side of it provided French and English translations of the original Italian. We could watch the stage or read the supra-titles at any one time. We could only read the text above the stage. After a few minutes our necks tired from holding them at an angle to read the supra-titles at the top.
Giorgio asking Violetta to forsake his son. – (c) Sébastien Mathé – OnP
The following contributed to the production: Karel Mark Chichon, conductor; Benoit Jacquot, director; Sylvain Chauvelot, set designer; Chrisian Gasc, costume designer; Andre Diot, in charge of lighting design; Philippe Giraudeau, choreography; and Alessandro Di Stefano, chorus master.
The dramatic final scenes – (c) Sébastien Mathé – OnP
Ermonela Jaho’s Violetta was energetic and moving. Ludovic Tezier enhanced the performance with his powerful Giorgio. At the conclusion the audience clapped for several minutes. It was a superb evening of entertainment and one that will draw me back to the Opera Bastille in the future.
*The Opera National de Paris did not allow photography during the performance. The photos they provided were dated from the Dec 11th, 2018 performance.
Best wishes for a prosperous New Year!
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Castronovo bean to bar chocolates from individual countries
The Castronovo Chocolate Factory in Stuart, Florida
I had sampled Castronovo small batch craft chocolate several times before I made it to the 725 square foot shop and factory in Stuart, Florida. The rich dark chocolate 2.2 ounce single origin bars had made a fan out of me. I liked their distinctive yet nuanced flavors of the dark chocolate bars and that they were made with only three ingredients: cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, and cocoa butter.
Pieces of a Castronovo bar ready for hot water
The Patanemo, Venezuela dark chocolate melted in a small amount of water tasted fantastic
Whether it was in a hot chocolate beverage or in morsels the chocolates I tried were head and shoulders above the supermarket bars and some gourmet bars. The day of our visit we tasted the 70 percent Hurricane Relief Benefit Bar from Hacienda Jeanmarie from Puerto Rico and ordered two batches of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. The bar was inside a sealed foil envelope with a paper wrapper. Handwritten on the back was the batch number and the expiration date more than a year later.
The shop doubled as a chocolate factory
I later found out the shop carried chocolate from eight vendors in Belize, Nicaragua, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras. Because organic certification is expensive for farmers to obtain, the shop only sold two origins certified organic, Belize and Honduras, the owner explained by email.
A sign on the wall at the shop
“We are very selective in choosing our producers,” Denise Castronovo said by email when asked about the selection criteria for her factory. “First off, the cocoa beans need to be produced using fair labor practices. Usually the beans come from family farms or indigenous communities. Since cacao is an understory shade crop, we seek out producers who typically are gathering the cacao in a rainforest environment rather than from plantations. Many of our cocoa beans are grown in the wild and simply harvested. Finally, when all of these criteria are met, we consider the flavor profile and looks for fine flavors that are unique to our line of chocolate and are not flawed by any errors in the fermentation.”
Each bar was on display with a handwritten description of its most distinctive flavor notes.
When asked how she chooses new suppliers she replied, “We require that our new suppliers be transparent about their sourcing to ensure that the farmers are paid fair wages. We work closely with suppliers who provide technical expertise on the post-processing fermentation and drying to ensure that the bean quality develops fine flavors and consistency. We purchase our cacao through direct trade which means that the cacao is not sold on the commodity market and there is price transparency throughout the supply chain to ensure that farmers receive a fair wage.”
Chocolate products for sale at the shop
The original cocoa bags were on display, waiting to be processed.
It was too early for the cookies, making it necessary to pay for them and return an hour later when they were cool enough to pack. The staff member who looked after us, a vivacious and enthusiastic woman, was friendly and service oriented. She answered our questions and made suggestions when asked. With her assistance I bought other single origin bars, which I have yet to open. When I wondered about specifics regarding varietals she found a colleague to answer my questions. On the way home we ate most of the Puerto Rico bar, savoring the unctuous chocolate with hints of raisin flavor.
There were samples on the counter.
When asked about staff training Castronovo explained that she instructs hires in factory methods of chocolate making, food safety, chocolatier work, pastry, barista, customer service and education. Over the years, the shop has had staff with professional pastry chef training, which was helpful for new product development.
Many of the bars featured awards and certifications on the labels
I have heard some chocolate fans wax poetic about the pedigree of their bean varietal as well as single source origin. When purchasing raw ingredients Castronovo focuses her energy elsewhere, she explained.
“The bean varietal (criollo, trinitario, forester) is not the most important factor – taste is far more important,” she said. “We do seek out heirloom varieties of cacao, whenever possible, so we can preserve the native cacao varieties from a region and discourage plantings of genetic hybrids. There are some genetic hybrids of cacao that we stay away from because they were modified for high production rather than fine flavor and taste terrible.”
Products for sale and cacao bags inside the shop
She believes in bean to bar single origin production. In that regard she said, “We create small-batch single origin chocolate, so the origin is extremely important. At each origin there are unique cacao genetics and terroir which create different flavors in the final product.”
Some of the Castronovo chocolates, including, in the middle, one of our favorite bars
We liked the 70 percent bar from the shop’s Signature Collection, a single origin from Patanemo, Venezuela. We repeated the hot chocolate beverage tasting with Castronovo Chocolate Factory (555 S. Colorado Ave #103, Stuart, Florida 34994, +1 772-521-1699, www.castronovochocolate.com, email@example.com) bought chocolate with equally rewarding results. The dark chocolate was a 70 percent cacao from Duarte in the Dominican Republic (no longer available). We also liked the Patanemo Dark Milk 66 percent and Nicalizo, Nicaragua 70 percent bars from the Signature Collection. I look forward to more Castronovo dark chocolate bar tastings in the coming months.
Photos by Gary Cox and Elena del Valle
Despite the subtropical heat the sisters were surprisingly relaxed.
We recently spent a few precious minutes inside an enclosure with Lura and Malee, two female clouded leopard (nebulosa) cubs at Panther Ridge Conservation Center (2341 D Rd Loxahatchee Groves, Florida 33470, +1 561-795-8914, www.pantherridge.org) in Florida. A warning about how sharp their teeth were did little to dampen out enthusiasm once we had caught sight of the junior cats through the chain link fence of their enclosure. Lura, seven months old, and Malee, five months old, looked healthy and were full of energy, mock stalking each other and jumping with ease from one side to another. Despite the heat the sisters were surprisingly relaxed, allowing us to watch them and take photos as they played. Their brother was unable to join us because he was recovering from an injury.
Lura and Malee played while we watched.
Clouded leopards are beautiful and like so many species may be in danger of disappearing in the future. According to CloudedLeopard.org, a Washington State nonprofit (per its website), in 2014 there were only 166 clouded leopards in zoos in the world, including 37 of them in the United States.
Sadie Ryan, head keeper and facilities manager, holding one of the cubs in her lap
To raise funds for its residents and increase feline awareness Panther Ridge offered tours by appointment and private time with the clouded leopards. Special thanks to Sadie Ryan, head keeper and facilities manager, and Barbie Jetter, assistant director, who welcomed our photographers at their center during an especially busy period. The staff and animals were in the midst of a cumbersome move from Wellington to Loxahatchee in Palm Beach County.
Barbie and one of the cubs
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List (IUCN), clouded leopards are Vulnerable. The Swiss based membership organization defines the term as “facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.” Although exact numbers seem elusive one website estimated only 10,000 of them remain in the wild.
According to the IUCN Red List clouded leopards are Vulnerable.
Panther Ridge is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to combining “feline husbandry with conservation awareness to educate the public on wild felines.”
Article and photos by Elena del Valle
Josh Oakley, co-owner, The Smiling Bison restaurant and bar, holding the House Charcuterie and Cheese board
During a weekend visit to Sanford, Florida I had dinner with three colleagues at The Smiling Bison restaurant and bar (107 S Magnolia Avenue, Sanford Florida, 32771, +407 915-6086, www.smilingbison.com), a locavore venue. My dinner that night was tasty, well prepared and well presented. I loved that the restaurant staff made virtually all of the dishes from scratch using fresh (not frozen) ingredients, that 100 percent of the produce was domestic and mostly organic, and that meats were almost all free of added chemicals, according to Josh Oakley, co-owner.
He said by email later, “We make all pasta dough, sauces, cured and smoked meats/ sausages, etc. from scratch on premises. We source primarily from several local farms and their availability is the main force behind our weekly menu changes. All farms we source from use 100 percent organic practices, but getting and official organic certification is a tedious and expensive process which not all of them have gotten.”
Our Duck Lovers Pizza fresh from the open kitchen
When asked what percent of animal products in the restaurant are free of added antibiotics and added hormones he replied, “I’d say about 95. We do a chicken wing night once a month and the wings are pretty much the only commodity meat you’ll find on our menu.”
Our Duck Lovers Pizza Duck Lovers Pizza starter with duck ham, duck sausage, duck confit, jack cheese and a duck egg
I tasted the following dishes shared at our table: Smoked Fish Dip starter of trout roe, house made saltines and dill; and Duck Lovers Pizza starter with duck ham, duck sausage, duck confit, jack cheese and a duck egg; and House Charcuterie and Cheese with chicken liver mousse, summer sausage, kielbasa, garlic beef salami, pepperoni, grafton two year cheddar from Vermont, rogue Oregon blue cheese, house sourdough bread and pickles. For mains we had Spaghetti & Meatballs made with beef and pork meatballs (a favorite). Because our transport arrived before we had a chance to order our final course we missed dessert.
Our four stools at the Chef’s Table provided us front row seating over the cook’s work space, which faced the dining room. Despite it being the busiest night of the week Oakley made time to answer questions and describe dish preparation. Joel Serrer, our friendly server, likewise answered questions about the menu and beverages.
Spaghetti & Meatballs made with beef and pork meatballs
The 3,000 square foot restaurant, owned by Ron Thomas and Oakley, dated to 2013. The building was built in 1912. Originally it was the headquarters of The Sanford Herald newspaper it also served as home to a chapter of The International Order of Oddfellows prior to being converted into a restaurant space.
The name of the restaurant was a nod to the Oakley, who was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. A self taught cook who never attended culinary school he credits his early interest in food and cooking to his grandmothers.
The restaurant was centrally located in Historic Downtown Sanford, the food was well prepared from scratch using fresh and wholesome ingredients and the service was warm and attentive. My only beef? As the evening progressed and the restaurant filled up the noise level rose until I could barely hear the person in the stool next to mine. Should I find myself in Sanford again The Smiling Bison will be at the top of my list.
By Elena del Valle
Photos by Gary Cox
Flavored sugar cubes from the Teaspressa Starter Kit
Years ago in a small cafe in Stellenbosch, South Africa I had a memorable red tea made like an espresso. The resulting beverage was concentrated and small with the rich flavor of South African red tea. Recently, an at home tasting of four loose leaf teas from the Teaspressa Starter Kit reminded me of that delicious beverage. Teaspressa (Arcadia Signature Cafe, 4628 E Indian School Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85018, +1 917-710-5748, www.teaspresssa.com, firstname.lastname@example.org) is a new Arizona company founded by Allison DeVane. She created Teaspressa’s proprietary Tea Concentration Technology that uses a pressure extraction method to produce tea blends that, like espresso, can be used to make Tea Lattes, tea-based drinks comparable to gourmet coffee beverages.
A tea shot and flavored sugar cubes
Our Starter Kit arrived in the mail with a black espresso pot, four teas, and four packages of flavored sugar cubes.
”Teaspressa is the first and only beverage that is a hybrid of tea and coffee, resulting in a healthy alternative to traditional caffeine drinks,” DeVane, who is also owner of the company, said by email via her publicist when asked what is special about her company’s teas. “Using a patented production process, Teaspressa is concentrated tea that contains as much caffeine as an espresso shot, but provides consumers the health benefits of traditional tea blends.
Manhattan Black, one of four teas in the Starter Kit.
Teaspressa is made similar to a shot of espresso, and has the same amount of caffeine; however, Teaspressa does not contain coffee, it is a concentrated tea that is made using a pressure extraction method, resulting in Teaspressa’s products containing all of the health benefits found in traditional tea. Just like espresso, Teaspressa can mixed with milk and more to create lattes and other gourmet coffee-like beverages, but with tea. Teaspressa can be made at home easily and similarly to traditional coffee, so consumers don’t lose their morning coffee ritual.”
Red tea, naturally free of stimulants, in the espresso pot before brewing
Our Starter Kit arrived in the mail with a black espresso pot, four bags with several servings of tea each, and four packages of flavored sugar cubes. The teas, blended in Phoenix, were Manhattan Black, proprietary black tea and German rye; Cape Town, naturally caffeine-free rooibos and rye; Green Gold, proprietary green tea blend; and Charles Grey. There were four Luxe Sugar Stick flavors, handcrafted by Teaspressa using all-natural ingredients: London Fog, Rose (recommended by DeVane with champagne), Salted Caramel and Vanilla.
The teas, blended in Phoenix, were Manhattan Black, Cape Town, Green Gold, and Charles Grey.
According to DeVane, Teaspressa’s products are certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture and made from “all natural, artisan loose-leaf tea blends, authentically sourced from China, Germany, South Africa, India and Japan.” She explained that the signature tea blends “underwent multiple phases of testing and are specialty curated for the brewing method that is similar to coffee brewing.”
Three of us, all tea fans, sampled and liked the teas and their concentrated flavor. We made them using the espresso pot per the instructions that came with the package. While none of us sweetens our tea we tried the sugar cubes, each less than 10 calories per cube and made with sugar from Hawaii, according to DeVane, on their own and also liked them. My favorites were London Fog and Rose in that order. The two men preferred Salted Caramel and Vanilla.
The Green Gold
The Teaspressa tea shots were especially appealing when time was limited such as at the end of a meal and when in the company of espresso drinkers. In lieu of the longer time it takes to savor and drink a cup of tea or a pot of tea sometimes it would be nice to have a tea shot. The teas were available via the company website as well as at Teaspressa Ann Arbor Signature Cafe (414 S Main St #115b, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104) and Teaspressa Frank Lloyd Wright Kiosk (12621 N Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd, Scottsdale, Arizona 85259).