Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Polls, Damn Polls, and Statistics

tl;dr Polling method counts, probably most for potential Liberal supporters, who likely answer robocalls less.

An interesting article showed up on CBC News suggesting that the discrepancy between polls showing either the PCs or the Liberals in the lead in the 42nd Canadian national election may be down to methodology. My mind went right back to the statistical tests I ran for my (Computer Science) PhD thesis, and it seemed like a good time to quickly flex that old muscle and find out if we're really being misled by the pollsters. You see, all the "margins of error" for polls depend on the underlying assumption that you've sampled randomly...but there may be people that only do online polls, or hang up when an automated poll call comes, and they may tend to vote for one party more than another.

CBC has a cool page listing all the polling results from different pollsters (9 in total) for this election. Five pollsters use online methods, 3 use robocalls (IVR), 1 uses live telephone agents. Using a few non-parametric tests (to avoid issues with different margins of error for different polls), we can get an idea if the polling method is biased.  8 out of the 9 pollsters produced numbers in the few days following the September 28th leader's debate, and so we'll be brash and say we're minimizing the risk of including a time bias to our sampling.

The first simple test that came to mind was the Friedman test, in which we can check if ranking of parties across all the different pollsters' results is random (the null hypothesis, H0). There's a cool tool on-line to do this quickly.
*There's a ~1% chance that it was a three way tie just after the Munk Debate (A=PCs, B=NDP, C=Liberals). The PCs are leading across the polls in aggregate (i.e. Group A has largest rank). Note that I used the latest Nanos data (Sample 9, live telephone agent) for this test, but the Nanos rankings don't change for the Sep 28th period and so the result is the same.

Is that better ranking due to the uneven number of polling methods used? At this point we pull out the Kruskal-Wallis test and run it for each party.


Note that since there is only one sample in group C, its value has no effect on the test statistic, so in the end it doesn't matter what I put in that box and I can't say anything about live agent response bias. IVR vs online is another matter though! There is between a 90 and 95% chance (nineteen times out of twenty) that Liberal voters answer substantially more online polls more than PC voters, answer substantially less IVRs, or both.* The latter seems a bit more likely, since the former explanation would require major Liberal overrepresentation in both online polls and the Nanos live agent telephone poll (where they lead). Also, this Master's thesis (thanks to Dennis Stevens for pointing it out) argues that IVR catches less undecided voters, so voters supporting the one and only "right wing" party are more likely to respond.

The test statistics for the Conservatives and NDP do not show a substantial bias in preferring to respond to a particular polling methodology (p > 0.1). Of course, it could be that any party is systematically underrepresented in all the polling methods, we can't tell that from this data. Note that there are plenty of limitations to these tests (e.g. no multiple testing correction), and hopefully this will start a dialog about how much we can trust polling numbers in the new millenium with smartphones, the Web, and jaded call recipients. Rerunning these tests to include all 143 poll results (where you could get a good q-value) in the poll tracker is left as an exercise to the reader, but the more important exercise is to get out and vote on October 19th, for the only poll that really matters.

[start digression]
*Note the warning at the bottom of the table about not trusting a p-value when a group has less than 5 items. Let me digress for a second and say that this awesome on-line tool is of course limited and uses an approximate method unsuitable for small samples. You can calculate an exact p-value for smaller samples using a bootstrap approach in a computer language like R. I started doing this...

Since I'm just doing a quick check here, I don't feel like installing the packages required to calculate an exact p-value, which requires 9! (i.e. 362880) permutations to be run by the way. Luckily, I remembered that there are people who love doing these types of calculations, and I can just lookup exact p-value thresholds for Kruskal-Wallis for groupings of 5, 3, and 1:

So Kruskal-Wallis 4.02 has a 10% false positive rate, and 4.87 has a 5% false positive rate. The Liberals' Kruskal-Wallis falls somewhere between these two.

[end digression]

Monday, August 18, 2014

Okanagan Wines for Calgarians, Part 3: Tapas Whites

On the heels of light summer fare in the form of Roses (Part 1) and Patio Sippers (Part 2), I'm giving you the scoop on what the Okanagan Valley has to offer in terms of what I call "Tapas Whites". Casual slightly off-dry wines that are good any time year, and have just enough acidity that they'd benefit from savoury accompaniments.  Think of a cocktail party with wine instead of cocktails...you'd serve these.

The owner & winemaker at Howling Bluff is always an engaging fellow with whom to do a tasting. His wines must be largely snapped up by restauranteurs and in-the-know oenophiles, because it's easy to miss this tiny tasting room along Naramata Bench. We've previously picked up the Summa Quies ("Striving for Perfection") white blend, but his Sauvignon Blanc ($19) is probably his most well known. And this year he HATES it.  Due to a late night fermentation tank valve mishap, the yeast died early, leaving quite a bit of residual sugar in the wine.  He dislikes it so much he cancelled all the restaurant preorders, but I like it a lot!  If you like off-dry, this is an otherwise perfect affordable wine with a bit of a fruity mineral nose, a tropical palate and a slightly lingering finish.  Very versatile, it's easier to list what this wine would NOT go well with: olives, artichokes, asparagus.

From Part 2 of this series, you'll know that I've got a penchant for Gewurztraminers from the Okanagan. In this entry, the listed Gewurzs are still off-dry, but have more complexity. This can be tough to achieve. Only this year did I realize how much it depends not just on the estate's terroir, but also the winemaker. Down the South shore of Kelowna, St. Hubertus used to be a perennial favorite of ours for sippable whites. The 2012 and 2013 vintages remained off-dry, but did not appeal to us at all. My wife dogged them until we got a satisfactory answer: they had a different winemaker for those years. For 2014 they have switched to yet another winemaker, so I'll report back in 2015.

Just down the road from St. Hubertus is Cedar Creek, which did not disappoint. Their 2013 Gewurz ($18) has the trifecta of high alcohol, low acid, and residual sugar. I know because this is one of those places where they list the chemical specs for the wines on the tasting menu :-) They achieved the trifecta by picking the fruit quite late in the season. Complexity in this wine come from a slow twelve hour pressing of the grapes, allowing the skins to impart extra aromas. A nice floral nose, with lychee predominating on the palate, and a clean finish. A good wine to complement a cheese plate. Wild Goose's 2013 Gewurz ($19) has a similar profile, despite the label saying "dry style" on it. The Wild Goose has a distinct spiciness though, and tingles slightly on the tongue.  This would go nicely with some spicy Asian small plates.

Volcanic Hills in West Kelowna may not compete with the WK big boys like Mission Hill and Quail's Gate for estate esthetics, but they do have a very large tasting room and their prices are more reasonable. Their 2012 Gewurz ($16) is fairly light for an off-dry, with stone fruit on the palate and a citrusy finish. I'm thinking a light but creamy and salty companion for this one... who's ready to make some risotto balls?!

The final Gewurz in this post is from a small upstart winery in on the Naramata Bench, called Mocojo. I'm not sure they even have a road sign yet! The 2013 Gewurz ($18) is the winery's first vintage, though the grapes have been growing here for 20 years. The prototypical spice and lychee are blunted a bit compared to other picks on this list, but its 14% alcohol and residual sugar play off the acid minerality nicely. I can see this going well with salty and gamey bites such as goat cheese canopes.

Down the road in Naramata is a winery with a road sign, but it isn't on most wine maps. Ruby Blues always has a stellar line-up of wines, and the 2013 Pinot Gris ($20) is off-dry with peach and apricot on the palate, and enough acid for a nice clean finish. Ruby Blues eschews all of the formal winery organizations, and the owner set up shop right across the street from Red Rooster, where she used to be their winemaker. To honour this healthy disregard for convention, I'd pair this with some jamon iberico... in croquetas if you want to stretch your hammy dollar.

Finally, Oliver Twist's 2012 French Embrace ($19) is a blend that includes the unusual Kerner grape. It's the closest to a dry wine on this list, but bursts with tropical fruit and has a lingering dull mineral finish. I think this would go nicely with some gravlax and creme fraiche.

Well, that's it for now wine lovers! Stay tuned for more, including the last instalment of whites from the Okanagan: whites for sit down meals.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Okanagan Wines for Calgarians, Part 2: Patio Whites

A natural extension of the rose piece in Part 1 is to talk about the whites that you can sip all on their own, a.k.a. the patio whites. While I'm usually all about food, these wines can simply pair with a brutal day at the office. Also, as Calgary consumer, I think "hot tub white" is a just as or more suitable a moniker for these wines 9 months of the year.

Three things my wife and I look for in an Okanagan patio sipper are 1) a huge perfumey bouquet, 2) some residual sugar, and 3) low acidity (lest I get a rumbly tummy). Gewurztraminer is a prototypical grape for a patio sipper from the OK valley, as it characteristically has a floral nose, and is left a bit sweet by winemakers. From our picks though, you might be surprised to find out that almost any white grape can yield these patio sipper traits. Now without further ado, from most off-dry to least...

Dirty Laundry is famous for cranking out patio sipping Gewurztraminers year after year, and the Summerland winery's wares are widely available in Alberta. Of the three Gewurz wines they offer, my favorite is the 2013 Woo-Woo ($20).  It seems a bit thicker and more floral than the others, with a bit less acid.

Many people love to hate Chardonnay, even unoaked ones. If there's no lobster on the table, I'm usually one of them. Deep Roots 2013 Chardonnay ($22) though breaks every Chardonnay stereotype, with a bit of spice on the tongue, a fair bit of sweetness, and aromas of tropical fruit. Although it has a fair bit of sweetness, it still has a nice clean finish, unlike many Chardonnays that have lingering buttery texture due to full secondary malolactic fermentation.

Wild Goose's Autumn Gold ($19) is aptly named, consistently winning gold medals at various and assorted competitions over the last 25(!) years. We pick one up on every trip through Okanagan Falls. A blend of Riesling, Gewurz, and Pinot Blanc, it tastes tropical much like the Deep Roots Chardonnay, and tastes about as sweet, but is thicker and more cloyingly sweet on the finish.

Go to any other tasting room in the valley and say "we were at this place with a really, really big dog...", and you'll invariably get the response "oh, you mean Desert Hills". The dog in question is a Mastiff called Ali, definitely not the delicious 2013 Gewurz ($23) from this smaller winery in Oliver. While floral and sweet like the previous wines, on this one I get distinct aromas of stone fruits like apricots and peaches. There is a bit of a tingly acid punch on the finish with this one, for those really hot days when that constitutes "refreshing".

Last time we were at La Frenz on Naramata Bench, we were accosted by other patrons in the parking lot for buying the last bottle of 2013 Alexandria ($20) white blend. This year we were just lucky that they hadn't sold out by the August long weekend. Since they were down to the last couple of cases, they weren't tasting this year's, but like the Autumn Gold it's quite consistent year to year. Thick, with a big floral nose, honey and raisin on the palate. A nice patio wine, but I've also had this with a cheese fondue for apres ski. #nomnomnom

8th Generation in Summerland is a perennial favorite of ours, and the fact that this and some other wineries recognize us was a sign to take a 2013 BC wine hiatus (went to Walla Walla, WA & Alexander Valley, CA instead). Some years we get the Syrah (good for cellaring) or the Pinot Meunier rose, but this year we picked up the 2012 Riesling. Almost colourless (is there any in the glass to the right?), it's off-dry (1) with more acidity than the other wines mentioned here, and a clean finish. You could pair this with some scallops seared in a nice brown butter.

Straddling the patio sipper/pair with food divide even more is a trio of wines to round out this post.  First, Little Straw's 2012 Tapestry ($17) is a blend of five grapes with Gewurz predominating. It has the Gewurz nose, is fruity and off-dry, but has a hint of woody complexity on the palate that makes it go nice with savoury white meats like a spit roasted chicken, or a tomato based pasta sauce (acid vs. sweet). You can drink it after a year, but I've cellared it for up to four years and it just got better.

The second straddling sipper is Silk Scarf's 2013 Ensemble Blanc ($21).  It's hard to say enough nice things about this small Summerland winery. Last time we bought their unique saignee Viognier varietal, but this year that wine and another white were sold out already. It's also the only winery we went to that suggested tasting red wines before white wines (which I agree with wholeheartedly).  Like the Tapestry, the Ensemble has the patio sipper traits, but is edging towards dry, with more structure including a balance of minerality, stone fruit and a hint of green apple tartness. Fish's natural partner.

Finally, La Stella makes another appearance (see Part 1) with their Piedmont style 2013 Moscato d'Osoyoos ($20). This ever so slightly effervescent off-dry white comes in a 500mL format, so you don't have to feel guilty about polishing off a whole bottle so quickly :-) It's pretty sweet, but I've left until last because it really would stand up to food well. Huge orange blossom nose, with a bit of spice and only a slightly lingering finish, it would be a great accompaniment to a Pad Thai or a spicy curry.

Well, that's it for now...sweet dreams, oenophiles. Stay tuned for part 3 of Okanagan Wines for Calgarians: Tapas Whites.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Okanagan Wines for Calgarians, Part 1: Patio Rosés

Maybe my wife and I have a wine problem. On a 2012 visit to the Okanagan wine country, we made it to 70 different wineries. This time we are "only" able to make it to 60 (not including a few rejects that seemed too pretentious or unwarrantedly pricey). Quite a lot has changed in the last two years, and it would be a shame not to share our finds with you, dear readers!

Despite our our best collective efforts at meteorological amnesia, Calgary has only a few weeks hot enough demand a nice blush wine, so I'm making this first post timely and brief.

The good news is that there are tons of nice rosés in the Okanagan. Best of all, they are usually one of the cheapest wines in a tasting room. Every winemaker worth their salt is afraid of making an Arbour Mist. Therefore all of the rosés in the Okanagan taste pretty dry and crisp, but are still sippable, with strawberry and rhubarb predominating. Pick any small-to-medium sized Okanagan winery, and you can wager it has a nice rosé (e.g. Hillside, Tantalus, Hidden Chapel). I'll just highlight a quartet of rosés that are particularly noteworthy for their variation from the norm.

Deep Roots is a new winery on the Naramata Bench, a small, real family affair, where the owner's son is the winemaker. They've been growing top notch grapes for other wineries for twenty years, and it shows: we loved almost all of their wines. The rosé ($19) has lots of strawberry, a bit of rhubarb, and some pomegranate. There isn't much acid, but the sweetness is tempered by 14% alcohol, quite high for a rosé. A definite patio sipper, maybe with some nice salty charcuterie...you know, to maintain your electrolytes.

Nichols is an established winery at the very end of the Naramata Bench, and yes, it's worth the drive. The Nichols 2013 Pinot Gris ($22) was left on the skins for 36 hours to give it some color, making it a quasi-blush. It has your typical rhubarb, with a touch of lemon, but also a pleasant bit of yeasty bread flavour (due to the winemaker purposefully stirring the yeast up during fermentation). Believe it or not, some bars in BC have this wine on tap!  I could see it pairing nicely with pretzels and german pork sausages.

La Stella, with casual patio-tasting on a beautiful property on the outskirts of Osoyoos, is always a must visit for us. They pick the grapes in small bins, sort them by hand, and ferment in small batches...and it shows in every product. La Stellina (a steal at $23) is a serious wine, the kind you'd bring home to meet mother. Hints of berry fruit on the nose, just the right amount of sour rhubarb, and a smooth rose petal finish that would make it go nicely on a hot day on the patio with some refined Middle Eastern mezze.

C.C. Jentsch Cellars opened last year South of Oliver, though they've been growing grapes for at least ten years, and fruit for close to a century. The Dance ($18) is a "rosé for men". A bit of rhubarb, but LOTS of red stone fruit and tropical notes, with just the right tinge of sweetness that plays off the elevated 13.9% alcohol. If you're looking for a rare treat, they are also selling a 1998 estate cherry vinegar. Visions of gazpacho are running through my head right now.

Stay tuned for part 2: hot tub whites!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Well, Basil My Rathbone!

Basil My Rathbone at Endeavour Arts is like a monthly after school program for adults...an unstuffy chance to buy a drink, doodle with the provided arts supplies, admire digital art, buy supplies or a piece of tech and/or talk to interesting people making art in Calgary. Oh yeah, they screen a classic film too!

I attended my first WBMR in March (featuring How To Steal A Million) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Keeping with the movie's theme, Kelly Hofer led an impressive effort to forge a painting. The series curator Zoe Klintberg provided an engaging background story about the film and the stars which definitely enhanced the viewing experience for me. The film selection was great too. There were probably 50 people in attendance, with space for twice that number. Did I mention that the viewing is FREE? Food and drink are by donation.

On Sunday April 13th the classic Singing in the Rain will be screened, the last film before a summer hiatus. Doors open for playtime at 6:30pm, film starts around 8. Check it out!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Brazil travel log, part 1: Of Cacao, Cocaine and Piranhas

"98% of the population does not work on cocaine," our affable guide in Bogota reassured us. My wife and I looked at each other, and doing some mental math I figured that meant about 1 million people still rely on the white stuff for their livelihood. Chewing coca leaves crushed with lime (powdered calcium hydroxide) was a popular ancient Indian tradition in Columbia that is now marginalized. Hot chocolate was on the other hand reserved for high ranking tribe members, but is nowadays a widespread practice amongst all Columbians. I refer you to this excellent article for more details on making Columbian Hot Chocolate.

It's easy to see why people in Bogota like hot chocolate: it's cool and damp all year round. After a 600m funicular ascent of Monserrate, you're 2 miles (3,200m) above sea level, and you can see from that vantage point many greenhouses dotting the cityscape. As it turns out, Columbia is the world's largest producer of roses. Chocolate and roses seem like a natural match, don't they? (By coincidence, we were there on Valentine's Day)
Ancient Indian coca-chewing selfie (Bogota Gold Museum)
A less natural match in my mind is hot chocolate and cheese, but that's the tradition here. The cheese imparts a slight saltiness to the chocolate that isn't really unpleasant, but doesn't enhance either. The cheese settles into a gooey layer at the bottom, but made me think that an interesting gringo take on this could be emulsifying cream cheese into thick hot chocolate. E-mail me to find out where you can send the royalty checks.
Monserrate, the massive Gold Museum, the Botero Gallery, and the street art are all attractions worth seeing in this still quite pre-touristic city, and they can be done in one day by an industrious traveller. Indeed, Bogota was only an extended layover for us, as we were making our way down to the Amazon Rainforest.
Chocolate Santafereño: cacao + panela (raw cane sugar) + salty fresh cheese mixed in. Arepa bun for dipping.

With its headwaters in Columbia, the Rio Negro is poetically as black as coffee. It winds its way down to Manaus, Brazil where it meets the muddy brown Rio Solimões to form the Amazon River. At "The Meeting of the Waters" a peculiar thing happens: the rivers run next to each other downstream for many miles without mixing. This is because of the different speeds, temperatures, turbidities and acidities of the rivers. Starting in Manaus, we did a three day boat trip up the Rio Negro. Our guide happened to own a small chocolate factory in town (Sweet Manaus), and I suggested a two sided caramel-chocolate log in honour of this phenomenon. Just waiting for this to show up at Trader Joe's and the like.
The Meeting of the Waters

The Amazon Basin not only has cacao trees, but is also its cradle, with a recent study showing 9 of the 10 varieties found here. That's right, forget Criollo vs. Forastero, the tremendous biodiversity of the Amazon extends into cacao too, and has yet to be really exploited.
Fishing for Piranhas on the Rio Negro, Amazonas
The boat's cook gave us a great sense of the local home cooking. Not surprisingly fish predominates (a local favourite is Tambaqui), and it was all delicious, even the piranhas we caught ourselves one morning. Unbeknownst to me, piranhas are omnivorous (eat plants too), and play an important ecological role as scavengers. What also surprised me was finding out that the delicious juice we were drinking with our fish was the fresh fruit pulp of the cupuaçu, a tree that's in the same genus as cacao. The sweet juice tasted a bit like ya pear with a tinge of green mango.

Like cacao, it has pods filled with beans that are covered in quick spoiling white pulpy deliciousness we never get to experience living far from the equator. And it's very common in these parts. "That's what I make my chocolates with" our guide said. Cupuaçu seeds have the same desirable body-temperature melting fats as cacao, but processing it is a finnicky cottage industry, so you'll probably not see many cupuaçu candy bars lining North American store shelves until the superfood marketing people burn out on açai.

And yes, you do see wild açai everywhere in the forest. Crossing another Amazon stereotype off the list, we ran into several Brazil nut trees. I always though that opening a Brazil nut was really tough. It turns out we have it easy. 
A pitcher of juice from the cupuaçu,‎ cacao's kissing cousin
Our native guide spent about 3 minutes wielding a machete to open up the double-walled shell that encases 20-22 of the hard shell nuts that we tend to see around Christmastime. Right off the tree, the nuts taste surprisingly similar to fresh coconut. Sweet Manaus makes candies with Brazil nuts, though ironically, the nuts aren't all that popular in Brazil...at least amongst humans. You may wonder how such a tough nut would ever get planted, and the answer is agoutis. These rodents (which eluded us on our forest walks) love cracking open the tough outer shell and feasting on the insides. In case you're worried about all those first world pet agoutis missing out, I met a girl once who's Master's thesis was developing an agouti toy to simulate opening a Brazil nut shell. Yep, first world problems.
Brazil nuts: an agouti's delight

As we traveled through the rest of Brazil, one thing was obvious: Brazilians love their sugar. They make a gajillion pounds of it, and consume it too (as food and converted to ethanol fuel). Sugar cane loves lots of sun, and vast tracts of inland rolling hills are covered with the stuff. Cacao on the other hand is a rare shading loving fruit tree, which explains its natural niche under the rain forest canopy.
Sugar cane fields, Pernambuco State
The Amazon isn't the only rain forest in Brazil, and during our travels I was intent on visiting the Atlantic rain forest of the Bahia state, down the so-called Cacao Coast. Once upon a time this area supplied close to 15% of the world market for cacao. The heyday of this area was the 1930's, and a slow decline due to cultivation globalization was accelerated in the 1980's by an unwanted Amazonian visitor: a bacterium that causes Witch's Broom. The bug causes rapid abnormal non-fruiting branch growth, and the branches eventually loose their leaves and looks like a witch's broom.
Nevertheless, there is still cacao, and I needed to see it. After a 3 hour queue in 42°C on the Salvador dock, then a 1 hour ferry ride, then a 40 minute delay while they fixed the gate, then 3+ hours of harrowing driving on somewhat paved roads, we ended up in the laid-back town of Itacare, where marmosets watch surfers from trees at the junction of the dense rainforest and the Atlantic Ocean. From there, Alan gave us a 1 hour Land Rover ride over a washed out dirt road to get to Vila Rosa. Alan is a transplanted New Yorker on a self-described Quixotic mission to restore an old cacao plantation to its 1930's splendour. By my reckoning, the restoration of Vila Rosa has definitely been worth it. Most of the other cacao plantation houses in these parts have succumbed to the relentless forces of nature over the years. 
The epic car journey to the Cacao Coast
Besides spending about 10 years painstakingly rehabilitating the building into a living museum, Alan has used his background in landscape design to harness and transform those natural forces into stunning environs for the house. He has built a kayakable reservoir, cascading waterfalls, a diveable pond, and deftly curated the native plants (the area holds a world record for vegetal biodiversity) with landscape classics. Floating in the shade of a Sombrero tree, rotating my gaze between the banana tree, a mottled frog and the birds circling high overhead, I felt that particular serenity you only get from being unplugged from the modern world and absorbing the spectacle of nature all around you.
Vila Rosa: restored plantation from Brazil's cacao heyday
Vila Rosa is just getting into the pousada (B&B) business, but with full board. In addition to good home cooked food, we were able to try a multitude of fruit juices from the estate. If you recall, cacao is a rare shade loving fruit, and the forest canopy around Vila Rosa includes about 40 different types of fruit trees. Growing quality cacao in a responsible way and paying workers respectable wages is not a great money making proposition. Doing a tour through the estate, it's obvious that more than being a cacao farmer or inn owner, Alan is a steward of the land.

Various approaches are used to combat witch's broom here, from selective replanting to grafting new plants onto old Criollo stock. We crack open a ripe pod (a bit hard to find at this time of year, though each tree has its own mind about this sort of thing), and pluck date-sized fruits from inside to suck on. While we enjoyed cupuaçu juice in the Amazon, cacao pulp is even more delicious, tasting quite a bit like lychee, with distinct floral notes and a touch of acidity as you'd get from a not-quite-ripe nectarine.
Cacao: pod + pulpy bean-containing fruits
The harvesting season lasts almost 9 months, and while we were there during the lull we get a walkthrough of the equipment for and logistics of producing market-ready cocoa beans: fermentation and drying. The cacao pulp is pressed out and saved as juice before fermentation (which both builds the flavour of and prevents germination of the beans). A clever retractable roof over the sun drying bed reduces the potential for spoilage and makes it double as an all-weather veranda for guests. We husk and taste a bean straight from the drying bed, and it's remarkably palatable compared to the "superfood" cocoa nibs I've tried in North America.

We also get a walkthrough of the process to transform dried cacao beans into chocolate, as there is a demonstration scale factory on-site to do the roasting, husking, grinding, and tempering. I can't do this process justice here (e.g. explaining the importance of Form V crystal structure), and would suggest any Alberta readers to attend the excellent Chocolate Snobbery 101, where in fact one of the single-origin chocolates uses beans from the same region. Other readers interested in Bahian origin chocolate may have luck internationally finding the products of Alan's friends at AMMA Chocolates. Personally I liked the 45% cacao most.
We gave the three resident black Labradors a goodbye petting, left Vila Rosa and started to wind our way back to Salvador to catch the start of Carnaval celebrations (a post for another day).

I've always appreciated good chocolate, and our travels in Brazil made me appreciate cacao's birthplace. Here the tree is part and parcel of the biodiverse landscape, and it's a lot of work to sustain. Brazil now accounts for only about 5% of world cacao production, having given way to increasingly monoculture-like farming practices in equatorial Africa. Echoing a sentiment we heard often across the country, Alan lamented "everything in Brazil is hard". But doing it right was well worth it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Concert Alert: Ruthie Foster & Charles Musselwhite

I generally hate concert previews, but am going to write a brief one anyway. You see, I had the privilege of seeing Ruthie Foster's group play an intimate gig in the candlelit cellar of the Okanagan's Blasted Church winery in 2009. Although virtually no one there knew her before that night, the entire audience was in blues communion by the time the concert was over, swaying and swooning. Infused with gospel and soul, her inimitable voice makes contemporary blues easily resonate even with people who don't follow the genre. Some musicians record great studio music, but fall flat live. Double-billed with blues journeyman Charlie Musselwhite, the upcoming concert is about as surefire a concert bet as you can get in Calgary.

Foster and Musselwhite play the Jack Singer concert hall March 19th, as part of the BD&P World Music Series. Tickets are available via the EPCOR Centre Box Office.